by Jason Pyles
OK. So this is how it happened. This is why I chose “Top Secret!” (1984) to review for this site. In the rec room (where did I get that archaic term?) of a house where I used to go for band practice, someone had the DVD for “Top Secret!” lying around. I kept seeing it there, week after week, and the floating cows wearing boots always got my attention. I asked my friend Jeff Bryner, in a condescending tone, “What’s this?” And after flipping out that I hadn’t seen it, he said, “Hey, don’t judge a movie by its cover — you will laugh your head off during this movie. I guarantee it.”
A few years later, I still remembered that exchange and reasoned from the DVD cover alone that surely this must be an unusual film, so I chose it for this site — not realizing that it was one of those spoof-parody movies.
Even so, Jeff was partially right. “Top Secret!” has some pretty funny parts, but I still don’t think it was a worthy pick for our lofty purposes here ... but then, we’ve also discussed things like “Urban Menace” and “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man” on this blog, too.
Released in 1984 and having three directors, “Top Secret!” stars a young Val Kilmer. As near as I could tell, this movie is “Airplane!” (1980) meets “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964). It’s an apt comparison, especially since it was made by the same people who made the former. But despite its charms, “Top Secret!” really isn’t in the same ballpark as the latter.
Val Kilmer plays Nick Rivers, a Beach Boys-like American pop-singing icon who has been commissioned to perform at an East German festival, where an evil, German, world domination-type plot is afoot. Unlike other more recent spoof movies, “Top Secret!” actually has a story — and isn’t just a number of random, pop-culture sight gags strung together. (The excruciating works of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer — as well as Shawn Wayans and Marlon Wayans — have been a blight on moviedom the past 10 years.)
The highest praise I can give “Top Secret!” — meaning, if you’re going to watch it, then this is why you should — is that it defies your expectations right and left, every step of the way. To me that’s where the humor of this movie comes from. It’s silly humor, which I usually don’t go for now that I’m no longer 14 years old, but this silly humor almost always comes as the result of an expectation-defying surprise.
Now that I think back to it, “Top Secret!” is actually pretty funny. I laughed more than I usually do during a comedy — and I’m tough on comedies. So, maybe Jeff Bryner was right, after all. You can’t judge a movie by its cover.