Top Secret! (1984) Review

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How Silly Can You Get?

Top Secret! (1984): 8 out of 10: “Top Secret!” is a 1984 action comedy film written and directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker and starring Val Kilmer, Lucy Gutteridge, and Omar Sharif. The film is a parody of spy movies, specifically the Elvis Presley musicals and the spy films of the 1960s, such as the James Bond series.

The film follows the story of Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer), a young American rock star who becomes embroiled in a spy plot while on tour in East Germany. Nick becomes involved with a beautiful resistance fighter, Hillary Flammond (Lucy Gutteridge), and together they must outwit the villainous Deputy Minister of Culture, Cedric (Jeremy Kemp).

“Top Secret!” is a parody film that uses humor and exaggeration to poke fun at the spy genre. The film includes many references to Elvis Presley movies, such as the character names Nick Rivers and Hillary Flammond, which are nods to the Elvis films “Nick Adams” and “Flaming Star”. The film’s score and soundtrack also pay homage to Elvis’s music.

The film’s action scenes, chases, and fight sequences are also exaggerated and humorous, parodying the over-the-top action of 1960s spy films. The film’s initial battle with Omar Sharif could be right out of “From Russia with Love.”

The Good

The Good: Val Kilmer is a lot better in “Top Secret!” than any actor has a right to be. He is playing an Elvis type character in a cold war spy thriller and he nails it. The musical numbers are worth the price of admission. I cannot emphasise enough how entertaining I found each of the numbers. We have the over the top antics of “Straighten Out the Rug” which Kilmer sings in a fifties style East German Pizza joint (complete with novelty Hitler clock) to prove to the underground he is not Mel Torme.

Then we have the overwrought emotions and attempted suicides of “Spend This Night with Me” where Nick solicits an overnight visit from what is clearly a fourteen-year-old girl plucked from the audience. These numbers should be nowhere near this funny, and yet here we are. They inject a lot of life into “Top Secret!”

Another treat of “Top Secret!” is the sheer number of blink or you miss it site gags and Easter eggs. I highlight a newspaper “The Daily Oppressor” in the screen shots below, but that is one of hundreds of such gags. The cumulative effect of which is much mirth. (I don’t know why I am writing this like a 1950s Columbia professor all of a sudden)

Despite some whining below, the “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” approach works a lot more often than it doesn’t. Val Kilmer carries Top Secret on his back, and vocal chords and good nature. Some excellent and sharp writing does the rest.

The Bad

The Bad: While Val Kilmer was brilliant, I was underwhelmed by love interest Lucy Gutteridge. Some of the celebrated set pieces are also a bit underwhelming. The famous film run backwards so it appears to be in Swedish gag is funnier in concept than execution. (It honestly brings the movie to a bit of a halt.)

The Ugly

The Ugly: With any comedy that throws things against the wall, there are some misses. We have The Fisto right out of “Fallout New Vegas” that kills Nick’s manager from too much pleasure. A giant statue of a pigeon in a park that people land on and go to the bathroom. I don’t mind crude humor, but Top Secret seems to have a tone issue with such gags.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: Is Top Secret as good as Airplane or Naked Gun? No. But it is funnier than AIrplane II. And it is a lot funnier than most comedies of this type not made by the Abrams Brothers. (Or is it Zucker Brothers?) In fact David Zucker said it best. “The lesson we took from Airplane! was just fill up 90 minutes with jokes, and you have a movie. With Top Secret, it’s very funny, but it really isn’t a good movie. It really didn’t have a plot or real characters or real structure.”

Eddie Tagoe as Chocolate Mousse is a highlight.
Forced perspective for the win.
There are few decisions that are more important for a man than whether they are the front of the cow or the back of the cow.
I wonder if audiences today will even get the Blue Lagoon references.
Val Kilmer doing a Law & Order S.V.U. opening with Sara Montague in her only film appearance.
I love everything about this scene. Two torturers. One to torture your body and a professional moron to torture your mind. The moron carrying a New York Post with that Olivia Newton John headline is the chef’s kiss.
Some of the juvenile humor works better than others. Here we have as the codpieces on the Swan Lake ballet dancers. I will let you judge where this one lands.
Like the Blue Lagoon reference above, the East German women’s Olympic Team reference may be outside the experience of modern audiences. In fact, I could see quite a few misinterpreting the joke in its entirety.
All the news we choose to print? Really, The Daily Oppressor is no better than the New York Times.
It is an old gag, but it never fails to make me laugh.
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