I know normally for this column, I tend to write about very dark films. Films that feature broken people trying to make sense of a broken world. I gravitate towards those films for two reasons. One, because I relate to them. And two, because most people hide away from them. But it hits me that sometimes I need to step away from all that doom and gloom and offer you guys and gals a movie that will actually make you laugh. Though many people from generation X have seen and adore this absurd film, many of the younger generations don’t even know it exists, and that is why I chose to talk about it today. This movie is non-stop, stupid fun. This movies is 80’s satire and parody at its finest. This movie is Top Secret.
He was rocking the giant clock WELL before Flava Flav.
First off, most of you have seen Airplane, right? The Zucker Bros. comedy that very well may have the most over-quoted line in pop culture? Surely, you can’t be serious? I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley! Well, Top Secret is their follow-up to that amazing film. With that said, if you do not like slapstick, satire, or parody, you will not like this movie. But if you have judged those kinds of films on their modern versions (awful examples being Scary Movie 5, Epic Movie, Movie 43) you have NO IDEA the brilliance you have missed out on. The Zucker Bros did it first, and the Zucker Bros did it best.
First things first. This was Val Kilmer’s first film. While he may be a shadow of his former self (not literally), there is little denial that the man was once about as cool as they come. Top Secret plays off that by having him pretty much play Elvis, if Elvis was caught up in a plot of political intrigue. Yes, as is always the case with me, it IS as insane as it sounds.
One of my favorite jokes in a movie. Ever.
Val Kilmer plays Nick Rivers. A mega-pop-star set to play a music festival in East Germany. He gets caught up with some French Freedom fighters, and decides to help the stunning Hillary Flammond rescue her Father from East German forces. It sounds pretty straight-forward, but what you need to know about Top Secret is it is not so much the actual plot that sells it. It is the “joke a minute” humor that gets tossed at the audience. There are jokes stacked within jokes. Jokes that build off older jokes in the movie. There are subtle jokes that if you blink, you’ll miss. Ofcourse, there are also a great deal of in-your-face jokes that you will never quite forget. It is a spy movie starring a fake Elvis and made by the Zucker Bros. If you need more of a selling point than that, I can whip out the trailer and put it right in your face.
The cow in boots. If I only remembered five things from all of cinema, that would somehow be one.
Again, need to reiterate. This movie openly embraces the stupid. Embraces it and spoons with it. What you need to truly understand here is, there is obvious brilliance between the stupid. Hell, even things no one would think about like camera perspective get lampooned here. It is stupid and genius, striking a balance like you have never seen. But if you only know modern spoof and satire films, you do not understand how well these kinds of films work in the right hands. A joke a minute in a bad movie just makes you want to punch someone. But a joke a minute in a movie that works is nothing short of remarkable. Top Secret almost makes more jokes than the audience can even follow. But they work, and it keeps the movie fast-paced and fun. Modern versions of these films tend to be exhausting because they try so hard. Top Secret wasn’t trying. It was doing. Even the moments of self awareness is something you would never see work in a modern satire. The scene when they say “almost sounds like something from bad movie”, then they slowly turn their heads toward the screen to look at us? Yeah, that is genius. You can’t help but note shows like Community and Arrested Development when you watch movies like this. They set the tone for the running gag or visual pun.
Allow me to give you another example of just how brilliant and awesome Top Secret is. The reverse scene.
David Lynch would go on to use this idea to great affect.
Do you even realize the ambition, scope, and planning that went into that scene? The reverse book store. So stupid, yet again, kinda genius. Huge props to Kilmer in that scene, too. If you focus on him during that scene, his backwards acting is so spot on. That may seem insane to say, but to catch a book and actually make it look like you are throwing it is no easy task. The collar pop he does, too. Just really great little touches. That pretty much sums up Top Secret.
Oh, and I guess it would pain me to not at least MENTION a few of the musical numbers. As if the film was not ambitious enough already.
He break dances through the floor. That wins everything. Ever.
I haven’t even mentioned the French guy, Deja Vu, or the black French guy, Chocolate Mousse. Yes, those are their names. Honestly, I am done talking about this movie because I need to go watch it immediately. Even I forgot how friggin’ funny this movie is.
Don’t ask. Just go watch.