Top Secret!

From the sublime to the (absolutely) ridiculous. After watching Casablanca last night I had the extremely random urge to put on Top Secret! This is a 1984 piece featuring a very young Val Kilmer alongside the likes of Omar Sharif, Peter Cushing, and Michael Gough who are clearly there just to take the piss and be a bit silly (as well as take a pay cheque). I hadn’t seen it for 20 years or more.

The basic premise of the film is an American pop idol is sent to East Germany to sing at a festival. The festival, however, is a front for these East Germans to re-unite Germany. Naturally there’s a resistance to this, and the pop idol falls in with them. Wacky hijinks ensue and it would be remiss if I didn’t note these East Germans are portrayed like WW2 Nazis, while the resistance to a reformed Germany is French-themed, again a WW2 sort of reference. So it’s basically a WW2 comedy… set in 1984.

First impressions were good. I’d forgotten it had a string of really silly songs throughout (Kilmer’s character, Nick Rivers, is the pop idol), such as Skeet Surfin’; a Beach Boys parody (“If everybody had a 12 gauge/With a sufboard too/You see em shootin and surfin’/From here to Malibu…”), complete with surfer dudes firing shotguns at clay targets thrown by bikini-clad babes, all while riding surfboards.

My next big thought was that the film is EXTREMELY Naked Gun like. Indeed, after watching it again and noting this, I had to do some research to make sure it wasn’t just me seeing this. And lo and behold, it’s a Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker (abbreviated to ZAZ), production. These guys made Airplane! together and, separately, also made things like Naked Gun, Hot Shots! and so on. So the similar humour, involving double entendres, sight gags, etc, is absolutely a hallmark of their work.

Suffice to say if you like those other films, you’d like where Top Secret! lands as a film, although it’s perhaps a little more… abstract? Scenes like the bookshop where Cushing, Kilmer, etc, clearly filmed it in reverse, so that played the right way around the characters move and talk extremely weirdly, or the underwater bar fight, are very weird, very funny moments – but are also more than a little out there.

At some points in the film, I have to say that it drags a little as not every song or gag really lands, but it keeps coming at a relentless pace, and there’s funny material being shoehorned in right to the end.

Am I glad I re-watched this after so long? Yes, for sure. It might be another 20 years before I “need” to see it again, but I’m glad I caught it. Some of the material is very clever and watching a young Kilmer singing and dancing, not to mention having a really good grasp on comedy timing (something I don’t think he really became noted for in his movie career on the whole), is a delight. A lot of fun here.

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