by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved
The film was Hot Shots! Part Deux, the 1993 sequel to the original Hot Shots from two years earlier, but whereas the first film was mostly a spoof of Top Gun this one went after Rambo, with Charlie Sheen — repeating his character from the first film, “Topper” Harley — made up and coiffed to look quite like Sylvester Stallone in Rambo — according to imdb.com Sheen even worked out for his role eight hours a day so he’d look suitably buff for the part “as he decided that he would have felt embarrassed at the film’s premiere if he had to sit amongst people laughing while looking at him on screen in a singlet.” The film was made in the first year of Bill Clinton’s presidency, a fact mostly reflected in the closing credits, which insert the word “Rodham” as the middle name of every female character: a parody of Hillary Clinton’s insistence on going by her maiden name as well as her married one, billing herself in the White House personnel roster as “Hillary Rodham Clinton” and having herself alphabetized under “R” rather than “C.”
The plot gimmick is that Saddam Hussein — not referred to by name but obviously intended by the makeup of actor Jerry Haleva, the tasteless garishness of his presidential palace and his fabled bloodthirstiness (the film shows us his to-do list and about every other item involves supervising an execution) — is holding some American prisoners as hostages left over from the (first) Gulf War. A team that was sent in to rescue the hostages were themselves taken hostage, and as the film starts we see a third team sent in to rescue the two previous batches of hostages themselves taken prisoner and turned into hostages. “Topper” Harley has retired to a Buddhist monastery in Thailand, where Col. Denton Walters (Richard Crenna, basically reprising his role in Rambo) and CIA executive Michelle Huddleston (Brenda Bakke) go to entreat him to lead the next mission to free the hostages — and Michelle is so drop-dead gorgeous she gets all the Thai monks to drop their vows of celibacy and throw themselves at her in a series of pathetic courtship rituals that are among the looniest gags in the film. Of course “Topper” has also been keeping his hand in the martial arts, kick-boxing against Thai opponents for pocket money and at one point grabbing his adversary and squeezing his neck until his eyes bulge out of their sockets like a cartoon character’s.
The film was directed and co-written by Jim Abrahams (one of the three men behind the Airplane! movies), and it shows in the kind of sheer lunacy pursued for laughs — along with a surprisingly rich series of movie allusions, including a lost-love plot involving “Topper” and his ex-girlfriend, Ramada Hayman (Valeria Golino), that rips off not only the basic situation but quite a lot of dialogue from Casablanca. At the same time her husband, Dexter Hayman (Rowan Atkinson), turns out to be not a romantic Resistance fighter but a pathetic little nerd whose exit — well, unlike the Casablanca writers Abrahams and his collaborator, Pat Proft, had to get the two leads together — comes straight out of Auntie Mame. There’s also a subplot involving the U.S. President, Thomas “Tug” Benson (Lloyd Bridges), who turns out to be virtually bionic (he keeps mentioning various parts of his body that have been replaced with artificial ones) as well as a neurotic ditz who’s about to lose his re-election bid unless he can get the hostages out of that mysterious pink country that is shown on a map … well, it’s supposed to be between Iraq and Iran but instead of Iran being called Iran, it’s called “A Hard Place” so it’s between Iraq and A Hard Place.
Bridges decides to lead a commando raid himself and gets to replay the underwater glory days of his late-1950’s TV series Sea Hunt — complete with voiceover narration and quotes in Basil Poledouris’s score of the original Sea Hunt theme — and ultimately he and the dictator who shall remain nameless stage an exciting Prisoner of Zenda-style sword fight before the dictator melts down, then reforms as blobs of mercury and comes back, albeit blended together with his dog (don’t ask!) in what’s an obvious Terminator 2 reference before the dictator is finally taken out by a falling piano — and his feet shrivel up under the thing that’s crushed him like the dead Wicked Witch’s in the famous scene from The Wizard of Oz.
Hot Shots! Part Deux was everything we’d been hoping for in Beauty Shop and had been somewhat disappointed: a laugh-out-loud comedy that dared almost anything, and while there were a couple of those annoying gags common in movie “comedies” these days where we’re supposed to regard farting and other involuntary bodily functions as funny, for the most part Hot Shots! Part Deux is just a screamingly hilarious festival of loony jokes — including an elaborate seduction scene with “Topper” and Michelle (her apartment is a genders-reversed version of the elaborate seduction aids Jack Lemmon built into his residences in early-1960’s films like Under the Yum-Yum Tree and How to Murder Your Wife, and before that the mansion Ruth Chatterton built for her prospective boyfriends in the truly weird 1933 Code-bender Female) highlighted by a voyeuristic Black cab driver attempting to see, photograph and film it.
Other nice gags include the running total of the number of people killed in the film’s climactic battle — the subtitles at the bottom of the screen boast when the movie exceeds the body count of RoboCop and Total Recall — and a nice sequence between Charlie Sheen and Valeria Golino that makes fun of the whole idea of the movie sequel and its inherent exploitation of audience expectations. (At one point the working title of this film was Hot Shots, Part Deux! The Exploitation. Takin’ it to the Bank.) There are a few scenes in the movie that have been turned creepy by more recent events — like the shots of Iraqis torturing Americans in Abu Ghraib when we’ve since seen it going the other way around (one such scene involves an Iraqi plugging an American into electrodes that now can’t help but call to mind the famous Abu Ghraib photo of the man on the box with wires connected to his extremities) — but for the most part this is still a very, very funny film that, like Airplane!, holds up as a testament to how good the Abrahams mind-set could be and how many laughs it could generate.