Top Secret! (1984)

Country: United States
Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Val Kilmer, Lucy Gutteridge, Peter Cushing, Jeremy Kemp, Christopher Villiers, Warren Clarke, Omar Sharif
Music by Maurice Jarre

Top Secret! is a Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker production (the team behind the Kentucky Fried Theatre), and as such anyone who has seen Flying High (that’s Airplane to most of you) or the Naked gun films will know the type of humour to expect – although this film falls short of their standard. The film takes a scattershot approach to comedy, thickly layering on the sight gags, word plays and silly plot contrivances. Some jokes work, and others miss their mark by a long shot, but due to the shear quantity, you’ll find yourself laughing, or at least grinning broadly at regular intervals.

The film is a parody of all the wartime spy thrillers that appeared in the forties and fifties – basically the spy films that pre-date Bond, James Bond. This provides a nice springboard for some old-fashioned trench coat action – and let’s face it, is there anything funnier than a man in a trench coat? Well yes – but let’s go with it. The film starts with a Western secret agent, Cedric played by Omar Sharif being accosted by an East German soldier on the roof of a moving train. As they come to a low bridge over the tracks, Omar ducks down under, while the soldier keeps standing. We expect to see the soldier chopped off at the knees as he collides with the bridge, but instead we see the bridge shatter like polystyrene, and the soldier continues to stand. This is the first sight gag in a film that is littered with them. Some are truly inspired – this is a good start – but others barely raise a groan. Omar, realising that his attacker is pretty strong – he shattered a bridge, dammit – decides to leap off the train.

The bad guys are pretty upset that Omar has escaped because he knows that they are up to no good. They have a plan to destroy the British submarine fleet with an advanced new weapon. Omar intends to pass this information onto the French resistance.

Meanwhile, to divert the world’s attention from their wicked scheme, the East Germans are holding a music festival. Among their guest is Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer). Rivers is a decadent Rock ‘n’ Roller. Incidentally, Elvis Presley played a character called Deke Rivers in Loving You. To go off a tangent for a moment, I find it strange that Elvis never made a spy film. After all he was a sixties icon, and at that time Bondmania was sweeping the world. I am sure the King was a fan of spy films and if he had made one, he would have made one that was right up there with the standard of his other films – actually maybe it’s better that he didn’t, after all his attempt at a Spaghetti Western, Charro, was pretty lame. But let’s return to Top Secret! and Val Kilmer. Nick Rivers, as a performer, provides plenty of opportunities for musical interludes, which parody the Beach Boys, Elvis and a few 50’s crooners.

This is a relatively early starring role for Kilmer, and although it seems to say this so many years down the track, his youthful boyish charm shines through. Despite cameos be a few big name stars, like Omar and Peter Cushing, Kilmer still has to carry the bulk of this film, which he does. The shortcomings of the film can be attributed to some poor material rather than his performance.

The comedy spy film is a difficult proposition at best, because so many of the ‘straight’ films have many comedy elements in them to begin with. So to make a comedy spy film, you really have to go ‘way out’, and Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker are just the men to do it. Even then though, Top Secret! isn’t as successful as other ZAZ productions, but it still is worth a look. Whatever your taste in comedy, there’s bound to be at least one joke that tickles your funnybone.

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