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  Top Secret! How Silly Can You Get?
Year: 1984
Director: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Stars: Val Kilmer, Lucy Gutteridge, Peter Cushing, Jeremy Kemp, Christopher Villiers, Warren Clarke, Michael Gough, Harry Ditson, Jim Carter, Eddie Tagoe, Omar Sharif, Tristram Jellinek, Ian McNeice, John Sharp, Mac McDonald
Genre: Musical, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 3 votes)
Review: In East Germany there is a plot afoot to reunite the Fatherland - but not under democracy, no, under the iron fist of a faction in the military who wish the nation to return to its Nazi days. Only one man outside their circle knows about this, and he is a Western spy (Omar Sharif) who is attempting to escape across the border to alert his superiors, but finds it very difficult to get away. Meanwhile, rock 'n' roll star Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) is planning to make his debut behind the Iron Curtain as guest of the government there - actually, he's a last minute replacement and the Germans don't know what to expect.

Although if you really are German, you may be amused at what Hollywood thought your country was like circa 1984, apparently here with no concept of the difference between Nazis and Communists. But the team of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, who had provided the world with comedy favourite Airplane! around five years before, could offer the excuse that their chief inspiration was those Elvis Presley movies of the sixties, the kind of affair which rarely seemed to have anything but a glancing recognition of reality, so their absurdist fantasy of East Germany was very much in that vein.

Besides, who cared about accuracy when what you wanted here were stoopid jokes and lots of them? Well, you'd be hoping the quality of that humour would be up to the standards of the team's previous outings which also included The Kentucky Fried Movie and TV series Police Squad!, though at the time this was released it was ironically Airplane II: The Sequel, a film they had opted to have nothing to do with, which outperformed this more original effort at the box office. However, down the years thanks to home video and showings on the small screen Top Secret! amassed a loyal following, many of whom believed this to be even funnier than their 1979 classic.

Certainly by this stage the gags are less familiar, and therefore more likely to raise a laugh than hearing "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley" for the umpteenth time. The team were not happy to simply spoof Elvis, though Kilmer in his debut did a creditable job of not only staying deadpan but singing the songs as well, making this a rarely acknowledged musical into the bargain. But war movies, spy movies and just about anything which tickled their fancy went into the script as well, with some of the more obvious spoofs including The Great Escape (as Nick flees on a motorcycle, jumping both the barbed wire fence and a fleet of buses, Evel Knievel style) and The Wizard of Oz for the finale.

As for the plot, the impression was more that they wanted as loose as possible framework to hang their parodies on, which did mean the middle section sagged when it looked to be unravelling before your very eyes. Keep watching for the last half hour, on the other hand, and you got used to the idea that the filmmakers were so insistent on taking nothing seriously, not even their characters and their place in the storyline, and you began to laugh consistently for the rest of the movie. With some jokes more specific to its time than others - jabs at Ronald Reagan, an extensive send-up of The Blue Lagoon, once a sensation but now not much referred to - background information might be handy when deciding to watch it, but then there will be an inspired setpiece where, for example, the scene with Peter Cushing is run backwards to approximate Swedish, or simply a really daft joke, childish, surreal or witty it didn't matter, that would have you laughing out loud. Music by Maurice Jarre.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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