Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 90 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English; 2.0 stereo surround English, 2.0 mono French
MSRP: $ 12.99
Release Date: February 3, 2009
Review Date: January 28, 2009
Paramount is releasing another wave of low-priced titles with its popular “I Love the 80’s” promotion on February 3, 2009. The titles in this promotion are The Accused, American Dreamer, Black Rain, Cheech & Chong: Still Smokin’, Clue, Coming to America, Dragonslayer, Eddie Murphy Raw, Flashdance, Gallipoli, Golden Child, Harlem Nights, Heartburn, The Hunter, Lady Jane, Mommie Dearest, The Naked Gun, An Officer and a Gentleman, Ordinary People, The Presidio, Ragtime, Shirley Valentine, Staying Alive, Summer Rental, Trading Places, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, U2: Rattle and Hum, The Untouchables, Young Sherlock Holmes, and the film I chose from the review copies I was sent, Top Secret!
After the surprising smash success of Airplane!, directors-writers Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker tried something similar with Top Secret! This time, they’ve amalgamated the undercover espionage genre with a 60s beach party ethic. The result is a chaotic mess, never quite jelling into an even passably coherent story and yet filled with the same zany idiocy that made Airplane! so fall down funny. It’s not pretty, but it’s still a pretty good time.
Teenage rock sensation Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) is invited to an international arts festival in (what was then) East Germany little knowing that once he gets there, he’s going to be dragged into an underground movement to thwart the Communists by rescuing valued scientist Dr. Flammond (Michael Gough) from his imprisonment. Nick’s involvement comes about by his falling in love with Flammond’s daughter Hillary (Lucy Gutteridge) whose boy friend Nigel (Christopher Villiers) just happens to be leading the squad that is attempting to rescue the noted physicist. But like all espionage tales, not everyone is who he seems to be, and there’s more than one surprise as Nick and Hillary fight off the German High Command.
Like Airplane! many of the real comic gems in the movie happen in the background, so a keen eye and repeated viewings are necessary to ferret out every last drop of hilarity from the movie. The script is far weaker than the one for Airplane! as a launching pad for the gags, but that doesn’t deter the directors from going for broke with all manner of slapstick shenanigans (poor Omar Sharif in a funny cameo appearance gets the worst of them) to ratchet up the laugh quotient. I did appreciate the East German women’s Olympic team, Kilmer’s exploration of his jail cell, and a singing horse, all of which had me howling. On the other hand, Hillary’s extended tale of her and Nigel’s being stranded on a deserted island brings the comedy to a screeching halt and is easily the film’s nadir. As Val Kilmer is playing an Elvis-like rock star, the film also stops several times for extended musical sequences, some played straight and some with sight gags added to the mix.
This was Val Kilmer’s first important film role, and he’s a more than adequate straight man for the lunacy happening around him. He performs all of his own singing, too, and does a creditable job with it. (Were musicals being done much in the 1980s, he might have been a more than agreeable leading man in them.) Lucy Gutteridge isn’t so fortunate in the principal female part. Without the flighty innocence that made Julie Hagerty so appealing in Airplane!, Gutteridge is just plain dull as both comedienne and love interest. We don’t have that astonishing collection of great character actors playing their nutty roles completely stone-faced as we did in Airplane! either but the movie does offer screen baddie Jeremy Kemp, the always stalwart Michael Gough, and another surprising cameo this time from the wonderful Peter Cushing as a book shop owner to play important roles.
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. The transfer certainly looks dated for much of the running time with dirt flecks visible, color saturation rather anemic, and some scenes (like the “Skeet Shooting” musical number) horribly grainy and faded. Then, about twenty minutes before the end of the movie, everything sharpens up, color becomes vibrant, and flesh tones begin to look very good. It’s a very erratic transfer. The film has been divided into 28 chapters.
The disc offers both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 stereo surround tracks, both sounding about the same but with the 2.0 track having a little stronger presence with the dialog in the center channel. The dialog in the 5.1 mix sounds veiled and slightly undercooked. The sound mixer has made sure that the numerous musical numbers and some ambient sounds (gunshots, speeding cars, missiles) use the entire soundfield making for a better than expected utilization of the surrounds.
There is a VERY crowded audio commentary featuring directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, producers Jon Davison and Hunt Lowry, and hosted by moderator Fred Rubin. With all of these participants, you’d think you’d have non-stop talking, but you get just the opposite. There is occasional commentary that often goes silent, the silence broken only when moderator Rubin asks a question. They do acknowledge the film’s weaknesses and its lack of box-office success, something of a surprise.
The disc offers four alternate scenes which must be played individually. None is longer than a minute and in their entirety, they only run 3 minutes. They are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Three storyboards are available for the viewer to step through. The sequences they represent are the skeet surfing number, the nightclub sequence, and Nick in prison.
The film’s original theatrical trailer is presented in anamorphic widescreen and runs for 1 ½ minutes.
Also included in the package is a CD entitled “Music from the 80s” containing four songs representative of the era.
Not as good as the team’s Airplane! or The Naked Gun (or their television series Police Squad! for that matter), Top Secret! nevertheless has a fair share of laughs and inanity. Those who are dismayed by the lame parody attempts in more recent films like Date Movie or Meet the Spartans might find something more to their liking here.