Following the immense success of Airplane!, Top Secret! and The Naked Gun!, along came 1991’s Hot Shots!; a spoof movie imbued with the same type of punch lines and the same type of humour, and which was aimed at the same audience. Of course, the similarities are no coincidence, as the mastermind behind Hot Shots! was none other than Jim Abrahams, who collaborated with David and Jerry Zucker to create the aforementioned comic gems. Following the golden days of the ZAZ trio, David Zucker focused on the Naked Gun! sequels while Jerry helmed the sappy chick flick Ghost and Abrahams pursued Hot Shots!. Clearly, Abrahams realised that the typical ZAZ trio parody formula was successful, so he did not deviate from it even slightly. Thankfully, even without assistance from the Zucker brothers, Hot Shots! is a consistently hilarious, superior spoof.
Hot Shots! is primarily a send-up of Top Gun. The film is to Top Gun what Airplane! is to Airport movies, what The Naked Gun! is to television cop shows, and what Top Secret! is to Elvis Presley and World War II spy movies – Hot Shots! is basically The Naked Top Airplane Gun Secret!. As for the plot? A Tom Cruise type named Lt. Topper Harley (Sheen) is a flashy young hero who was kicked out of the Navy. Several years afterwards, the Navy want Topper back for some type of secret mission. Once Topper agrees and leaves his tee-pee (don’t ask), he soon finds himself in competition with the corps’ egotistical flyboy (Elwes) and in lust with the base’s resident psychiatrist (Golino). But who cares about the plot, anyway? The flimsy premise is just an excuse for a bunch of gags.
In his review of Scary Movie, Roger Ebert noted that spoofs are the hardest genre to write about, and this sentiment is spot-on. The point of reviewing a film is to assess a number of factors, such as story, characters, and cohesiveness, none of which matter in the case of spoofs. The only thing that matters are the jokes, and a reviewer cannot write about these jokes because they’re best left unspoiled. Thus, it boils down to one thing: is it funny? If the answer is no, the film has failed. If the answer is yes, the film is a hit. In the realm of parodies, you either hit the nail on the head or miss the mark. Thankfully, Abrahams hit the nail on the head – Hot Shots! is absolutely hilarious. The film is nothing but a rapid-fire succession of silly jokes, but the jokes are uniformly hysterical.
Hot Shots! takes as many pot shots as possible as quickly as possible; setting its sights on as many targets as possible. Naturally, not all of these gags are home runs. Yet, the jokes are delivered at such a swift rate (without rhyme of reason) that if a joke falls flat there is still another gag right around the corner which is bound to provoke a smile, a chortle, or an outright guffaw. As with most films of this ilk, Abrahams and co-writer Pat Proft (Police Academy) chose to parody as many pictures as they could get away with –Top Gun was the main target here, but sights were also set on The Godfather, 9½ Weeks, Cocktail, National Velvet, Gilda, Gone with the Wind, Rocky, Casablanca, Superman and numerous others. In addition to the outright spoofing, Hot Shots! is rife with background detail. In order to catch all of these little nuances, multiple viewings are necessary. Heck, there are even a tonne of additional gags present throughout the credits.
Nobody should judge a film like Hot Shots! based on acting, but the acting is surprisingly good here. Charlie Sheen is unexpectedly funny when he wants to be, and for this film he truly proved that he has great comedic timing and slapstick skills. Sheen was accompanied by a fine supporting cast here, including Valeria Golino as his romantic interest and the always-amusing Cary Elwes as his rival. Lloyd Bridges (who also featured in Airplane!), meanwhile, is an absolute scene-stealer; exhibiting flawless comic timing, and delivering a plethora of memorable, hilarious lines. Also look out for Ryan Stiles (of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and The Drew Carey Show fame) in a small role as ‘Mailman’ Farnham.
Admittedly, Hot Shots! bogs from time to time, and the humour is not exactly on-par with the greatest gags from Airplane!, The Naked Gun! or Top Secret!. Nevertheless, the film offers a substantial amount of amusing gags to compensate for the slower patches. Hot Shots! is the type of movie you watch with a bunch of friends, a huge bucket of popcorn, and a decent amount of alcohol. And you will be quoting it for weeks. It is good, clean fun without being too garish, vulgar or offensive. For fans of spoof movies by the ZAZ trio, you cannot afford to miss this one. Oh, and look out for the Chihuahua! Eventually, the movie’s success led to a sequel: 1993’s Hot Shots! Part Deux.