Why The Hot Shots! Movies Are the Last Great Spoofs

The Hot Shots! movies were the peak of spoof cinema in the 1990s. We take a look back...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Spoof. Say it aloud. Feels like a dirty word doesn’t it?

Aside from even sounding slightly smutty, the spoof movie genre has, of late, been sullied by (five!) Scary Movies, Meet The Spartans, and – oh, the irony – Disaster Movie. Transitory, devoid of wit and with the lowest common denominator in their crosshairs, these movies aimed for the tittering teenager, the cheap thrill-seeker, and the perpetually stoned.

Perhaps the above seems like a sweeping generalization, but it’s with good cause. Where these movies and even the term spoof itself have since been eschewed, there remains a series of films which occupy a place of fondness in the heart of – including yours truly – many a film fan: the ZAZ movies.

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The writing, directing and producing partnership of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker stamped their mark all over the spoof movie genre for the best part of a decade finding success with The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad!, Airplane!, and Top Secret!.

Alongside an apparent fondness for exclamation marks, the threesome produced a body of work which is immediately identifiable as their own: an unmistakable blend of deadpan delivery, slapstick comedy, and visual gags. Throw in a host of regular actor collaborations and to use a music analogy, they had found their sound.

Their partnership cemented the late Leslie Nielsen as a leading man, comedy legend and the King of Deadpan alongside creating iconic comedy moments. It’s hardly hyperbolic to say there are too many to list, so for reference, let’s just go with Lloyd Bridges’ McCroskey having the least-successful ‘Stoptober’ ever, the surreal smut of the recently stuffed beaver and the moment the blow-up autopilot gets in-felated.

Watch Hot Shots! and Hot Shots: Part Deux on Amazon

The trio going their separate ways seemed to be the death knell for their trademark blend of parody, slapstick and visual humour. Whereas Jerry Zucker ditched the LOLs for all the feels in 1990’s blubfest Ghost, brother David went back to the well too many times, eventually directing Scary Movies 3, 4 (where he was reunited with Abrahams) and 5. It’s safe to say that largely, their individual work lacked the laughs of their collaborations. There are, however, two exceptions in the form of what feels like ZAZ’s last surviving (albeit bastard) heir: Hot Shots and Hot Shots: Part Deux.

Directed solely by Abrahams and written alongside Pat Proft (who collab’d on the original Naked Gun as well as writing Police Academy and err… The Star Wars Holiday Special), the Hot Shots films spoofed action movies with a healthy helping of modern movie references from outside the genre.

Amongst others, primarily Hot Shots (1991) got tone on Top Gun, although strangely referencing very little of its target’s homoeroticism. Familiarly, ace pilot Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen) returns to the skies to defend his country, but not without his share of Daddy issues which threaten to ground him. And then… well, it’s not really that important.

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What is important though, is the jokes. Perhaps because Top Gun already felt like a parody of sorts, it seemed like an easy target: when we see an inverted 4G negative dive, we see the contents of the pilot’s overnight bag empty into the aircraft canopy; the air-traffic controllers perform abstract interpretive dance while directing on-deck landings and instead of call signs such as Viper, Maverick and Ice-man, we get Wash-Out, Dead Meat, and The Old One.

Topping the class though is Hot Shots: Part Deux (1993) which is the rarest of creatures: a sequel that is better than its predecessor. You probably think I’m joking. If I was joking, I’d say; “a horse walks into a bar and the barman says, ‘Why the long face?’”

Following just two years later, Part Deux had a deeper pool from which to draw, taking on ‘Nam’ classics, 80’s action fodder and, er, Lady And The Tramp. Topper Harley is, again, familiarly recruited to come out of retirement for one final mission to take on (the previously bombed) Saddam Hussein. We see Harley with infinite ammo, mowing down innumerable bad guys as his high score rockets (from “Equal to RoboCop!” to “BLOODIEST MOVIE EVER!”). We see illegal ‘Dim Sum’ fighting where tickling nearly gets you a tap-out and we see a literal fistful of bullets take out an entire gang of henchmen.

If comedies earn their classic status through memorable, nay, iconic scenes then the Hot Shots movies have undoubtedly earned their place alongside – although not equal to – ZAZ’s finest work. Several such scenes have outshone the movies and enjoy a certain amount of infamy as standalone classic comedy moments in their own right.

Take Part Deux: As Topper Harley’s voiceover documents his boat journey down through enemy jungle territory, a familiar voice intertwines and overlaps his. Martin Sheen’s Capt. Willard now narrates his mission to confront Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kurtz, but not before passing his IRL son. Each takes a moment of recognition… and both end up fanboying with “I loved you in Wall Street!” Genius.

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Likewise, who could forget the food sex scene where Harley and Ramada (Valeria Golino) turn 9 ½ Weeks up to 11 by frying a full English breakfast on her midriff? How about the aforementioned Lady And The Tramp restaurant scene, where spaghetti eating not only leads to smooching, but to Harley snout-pushing a meatball over to his lady. It’s as ludicrous as it is clever and this is why the movies endure.

There are countless comedies that stand up to repeat viewings but with many, the law of diminished returns often sees the belly-laughs replaced over time with a sentimental smirk. A comedy that can still get a LMAO when seen for the umpteenth time is a rare thing indeed and the Hot Shots films achieve this (and maybe even a LMFAO) through this delicate balance of the stupid and the sublime.

A case in point, (criminally cut from the DVD PG release, but in the theatrical version of the film) is the No Way Out-inspired limo love scene from Hot Shots: Part Deux: a romp more ridiculous than raunchy. As Topper and Michelle get all handsy (with a door chain instead of a bra clasp), the chauffeur watches and – let’s be honest – pervs with increasing enthusiasm: he adds a magnifying mirror, then films them, then he dons 3D glasses, then paps them. It’s as daft as it is deliriously funny and even makes up for the ‘spotlightsaber’ boobs misstep.

Of course, comedy is all about the delivery and the fact that the films work at all is a testament to the performances. ZAZ regular Lloyd Bridges steals every scene he’s in as inept Admiral/President Tug Benson. He’s quick to list his achievements (“My eyes are ceramic. Caught a bazooka round at Little Big Horn. Or was it Okinawa? The one without the Indians”) and rarely has a clue what’s going on. (“Mr President.” “No you’re not, I’ve seen him on TV. He’s an older man, about my height.”) Thank goodness he’s fictional.

But make no mistake, this is Charlie Sheen’s movie. His ability to not take himself too seriously makes him a joy to watch: he dons a nightdress like a true southern belle, wears a transferable beauty mole for his love, and sees the underwear go outside the pants as a faux-Superman. His deadpan delivery and ability to play it straight turn the simplest lines into killer quotes and let’s face it, he’s never been better.

Sadly, spoofs and parodies seem a little old hat now. From The Simpsons to Family Guy to, well, you name it. It’s been done to death. The Hot Shots movies, like the ZAZ movies before them, felt like event cinema: films that dared to take on and take off their peers.

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Now doesn’t that sound like fun? Sorry you’ll have to speak up…my ear canals are very sensitive. They’re stainless steel…

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