Growing up, the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker comedies were my jam. Really, this was only based on two films, Airplane and The Naked Gun. I wouldn’t discover Top Secret or Kentucky Fried Movie until they were discussed in HBO’s behind the scenes on Naked Gun 2 1/2.
To my young mind, I could not believe all the different angles on comedy in their films. The wordplay (“Don’t call me surely), the multiple trains of thought going on (“The hospital, what is it?” “It’s a big building with patients but that’s not important right now.”), the sheer deadpan which they dealt with ridiculous slapstick…
By 1991, the trio had split apart. Jerry Zucker started doing serious movies like Ghost though he was seemingly still involved with 2 1/2. The summer of 2 1/2, Jim Abrahams did his own spoof, Hot Shots!, in pretty much the same style, with screenwriter Pat Proft who continued to write for David Zucker. 25 years ago today we got the sequel, Hot Shots! Part Deux.
Hot Shots! was a spoof of Top Gun with individual scenes that could parody other movies. There weren’t many follow-up fighter pilot movies to Top Gun, so it was a clever leap to go from Top Gun to Rambo. They’re related, insofar as they’re both aspects of the military, so the characters could transfer over. The Naked Gun franchise were always a cop movies, but that was fertile enough ground for three spoofs.
Maybe because Rambo meant more to me than Top Gun, Hot Shots! Part Deux appealed to me more, although I always liked the first one. Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen) now fills the Rambo role, Rambo III specifically. He’s retired from combat but fighting for cash while living at a monastery. Richard Crenna even plays the colonel who recruits him for a rescue mission. They do everything but call him Trautman.
Charlie Sheen was really good at doing this straight-faced absurd comedy. “These men have taken a supreme vow of celibacy, like their fathers and their fathers before them.” Saying “I smell a rat” as a rat crawls on him, yet never distracting him from the scene. David Zucker would use him in the Scary Movies but by the end, I think alluding to Sheen’s real-life antics made it too real to laugh.
Lloyd Bridges was their Leslie Nielsen though. The respected veteran actor could sell a fart joke like nobody’s business. Valeria Golina’s character Ramada stretches the most to fit the Rambo movie, sharing a tragic romance with Topper in flashbacks and filling the Co from Rambo: First Blood Part II role in the jungle, but she works it both ways.
The ridiculous background action remains impeccably choreographed while main characters are doing serious dialogue. Brenda Bakke’s delivery of “you’re the best of what’s left” is the perfect deconstruction of the action movie cliche without giving up a hint of gravitas.
Saddam Hussein (Jerry Haleva) was a one-joke scene in Hot Shots!. A bomb lands in his lap. He’s practically a main character in Part Deux. Haleva got a lot of work in the ‘90s for his resemblance to Hussein. I hope he retired voluntarily.
The amount of sight gags remains breathtaking. Every item in Sadaam’s fridge was actually constructed as a spoof of a real product. It’s like a live-action Simpsons freeze frame only they didn’t just draw it, they made it exist. I bet it’s racist but I would venture they’re making fun of one evil dictator, not the innocent good Iraqis.
The crazy thing is, to make a good spoof they had to make a real Rambo movie. So it had just as many explosions and stunts, only they involved rubber chickens and boxing gloves shot out of a rocket launcher.
I’m able to spot some of the tricks now. When Brenda Bakke lights a match off her thigh, you can see the patch of sandpaper stuck to her leg.
A few of the jokes are dated now. 900s numbers no longer exist, the Energizer Bunny is no longer making cameos in other commercials, Gabriela Sabatini may only be remembered by the most die-hard sports fans, who may not care about ‘90s spoof movies anymore.
I really miss this kind of comedy though. I truly thought Scary Movie was going to bring it back but it was actually the death of parody. Even their own sequel didn’t really have a point of view on horror movies because it was rushed. David Zucker took it over and brought some of the style back but mostly it gave way to entire movies that were like compilations of Funny or Die sketches.
So when we look back at the razor-sharp parody comedies of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Airplane and The Naked Gun will still be the masterpieces, but the Hot Shots are worthy companions. Abrahams only did one more, the mob spoof Jane Austen’s Mafia which celebrates the 20th anniversary this summer. We definitely need a ZAZ reunion.