Part of the 80s onslaught of spoof and parody movies, Top Secret was written and Directed by Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker, the men behind the likes of Airplane!, the Naked Gun series, Hot Shots! and latter Scary Movie titles. Top Secret is primarily a spoof of Elvis’ movies and the stereotypes of East Germany, mixed with a little bit of World War Two. Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer in his first screen lead) is an American pop star with a stereotypical late 50s sound. He is invited to East Germany as part of a cultural event but soon becomes involved with a beautiful woman (Lucy Gutteridge) who is in turn trying to rescue her father (Michael Gough) from an East German Prison with the help of the French Resistance. Rivers soon becomes imbedded in the Resistance and uses his wit, charm and good looks to help save the day.
It’s been years since I’ve seen the likes of Airplane! and the more recent spoof films such as Vampires Suck and the like have put me off ever wanting to see parody films again. When done well though as in the case of OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies or Black Dynamite, they can be incredibly funny. For me Top Secret sits somewhere in the middle. It’s certainly no Airplane! or OSS 117 but its high gag rate and silly humour make it a frivolous 90 minutes of fun.
There were two main things that I liked about the film, the first was the music and the second was the sheer number of jokes. I’ve never really been in to 50s style rock n’ roll but I enjoyed the music here. I have Tutti Frutti stuck in my head and probably will all night long… Although many of the jokes are either obvious or miss the mark, the fact that there are so many means that there are more than enough successful ones for a decent comedy. I also found that I enjoyed the jokes more in the last half hour when my girlfriend joined me and was laughing at them. As with a lot of comedy I think it helps to be with other people when watching a film like Top Secret. On top of the silly jokes and sight gags there were a couple of really clever moments. One scene in a Swedish bookshop (and featuring Peter Cushing!) is filmed entirely in reverse. The result looks great and the planning and timing must have been exhausting. A later scene underwater is also very funny and clever.I also liked how all the German signs were in pretend German and written exactly how I pretend to speaken das languagen.
Val Kilmer plays the part of a 50s pop star very well and his moves and mimed singing look great. He also plays it tongue firmly in cheek which is vital for a role like this. The supporting cast features some excellent actors such as Jim Carter, Omar Sharif, Peter Cushing and Michael Gough but most are acting with silly accents and have little chance to shine.
Overall Top Secret is a film that is very much routed in the past. As a young person watching today it’s sometimes difficult to get the references to Communist East Germany or Elvis yet some of the jokes are very broad. The humour is at times unsophisticated but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As a huge Charlie Chaplin fan I’m not averse to slapstick and sight gags and Top Secret is a silly film which is often a lot of fun but overall I could probably have lived happily having never seen it.