Top Secret! Review

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Nick Rivers, an anachronistic rock 'n' roller, tours an even more anachronistic Nazi-run East Germany and gets caught up with Hilary Flammond, the beautiful daughter of an imprisoned scientist and a band of stalwart resistance fighters.

★★★★

Made and apparently set in 1984, this effort from the David Zucker-Jim Abrahams-Jerry Zucker team blithely melds time-periods and features one of Val Kilmer’s rare comic turns. As usual, the ZAZ team offer a live-action MAD Magazine movie satire, throwing in jokes so stupid as to seem almost surreal, an amazing range of cultural referents and a smattering of genuinely witty conceits.

Rather than home in on one film-form like the disaster movie as in Airplane! or the cop story as in The Naked Gun, this sends up two apparently unrelated genres, the pop performer vehicle -- with Kilmer as a mutant crossbreed of Cliff and Elvis -- and the World War II spy picture. This tactic sacrifices the vestiges of coherence found in their other, better-known films but is in itself so ridiculous it's hard not to warm up to it. For the most part, the three-handed direction is merely functional, but several inventive pastiche songs (during one tear-jerker, Kilmer has to be dissuaded from suicide by his backing group) allow for a subtler approach and some gags are so ancient (‘I know a little German. He's sitting over there’) you almost feel pestered into laughing.

Among the inevitable star cameos are Jeremy Kemp, a villain seen perusing the Hermann Goering Work-Out Book, Peter Cushing, whose scene is played entirely backwards (and who wears a bizarre, half-enlarged facial prosthetic for the sake of a magnifying glass gag), and Omar Sharif, as a trench-coated spy who keeps turning up in unlikely places. Never mind that a high percentage of jokes misfire, there'll be a funny one along in a minute.

Jokes so stupid as to seem almost surreal, an amazing range of cultural referents and a smattering of genuinely witty conceits.