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‘Hot Shots!’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 31, 1991


Jim Abrahams
Charlie Sheen;
Cary Elwes;
Valeria Golino;
Lloyd Bridges;
Kevin Dunn;
Jon Cryer;
Wiliam O'Leary;
Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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It takes about 30 seconds to plug into the rubber-chicken spirit of Jim Abrahams's "Hot Shots!" -- just long enough for a naval officer to pull up to a teepee in the middle of nowhere, ring the doorbell and wait, before the flap is opened, for the occupant to unbolt the 20 or so locks and chains on the inside.

No film that pokes fun at "Top Gun" can be all bad, and that's what "Hot Shots!" is -- a spoof of the Tom Cruise hit. It is to "Top Gun" what "Airplane" was to the "Airport" movies, what the "Naked Gun" movies are to dumb television cop shows -- it's "Naked Top Gun." Abrahams, the middle member of the trio of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, who made "Airplane!" and the "Naked Gun" films, knows a solid formula when he see one, and he doesn't depart a millimeter from it.

The story line for these films is merely a clothesline for Abrahams and his co-writer, Pat Proft, to hang their tattered laundry on. In this case, the man inside the teepee is Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen), the ace of all naval flying aces, who was drummed out of the Navy for gross insubordination. But the Navy needs him back for a secret operation in the Middle East, a mission to destroy a nuclear power plant (belonging to guess who?) that cannot succeed without him.

Whether the mission fails or succeeds, or whether Topper wins the heart of the beautiful base psychiatrist (Valeria Golino) or loses out to a rival fly-jockey (Cary Elwes) is completely irrelevant. This movie -- like the others from Abrahams and the Zucker brothers -- is a live-action Mad magazine parody. These filmmakers specialize in the secondhand, and the trashier the pop culture source the better. Their stock in trade is the dumb gag, the cheap laugh, the surreal non sequitur, all fired off with oblivious aplomb at a scattershot rate of about 10 a minute.

Added up, that's roughly 1,000 gags, a virtual mother lode of dumb stuff, and if the ratio of laughs to jokes were anywhere near where it should be, you'd probably leave the theater sick from the hilarity. Luckily (or unluckily), no one will be in need of resuscitation after "Hot Shots!" The film is innocuous enough, and it provides a few laughs -- say, when the pilots approach their jets with claim tickets in hand for valet parking -- but it's hardly a comedy gusher. The picture's niftiest performance is given by Lloyd Bridges, who's hilariously befuddled even though most of his comic business is lifted straight out of the Leslie Nielsen playbook. Abrahams, perhaps to his credit, isn't proud -- he recycles what has already been recycled. But live by the gag and die by the gag. And sadly, "Hot Shots!" dies, rather pitifully and resoundingly.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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