Jet jock jokes on target

His dream to “bomb stuff, kill people”

Published: Nov 11 2019, 01:01:am

Wednesday, July 31, 1991

HOT SHOTS! Co-written by Pat Proft. Music by Silvester Levay. Co-written and directed by Jim Abrahams. Running time: 84 minutes. Rated Mature with the B.C Classifier’s warning "occasional very coarse language.”
TO A MAN, THE PILOTS understand the importance of their mission. The target is a nuclear weapons facility somewhere in the Middle East.
    The secondary targets, says Admiral "Tug" Benson (Lloyd Bridges), are "an accordion factory and a mime school."
    Funny? Hot Shots!, the story of operation "Sleepy Weasel," is as funny as one-third of the Airplane! directorial triumvirate can make it.
    Credit film parodist Jim Abrahams with having a clearly defined target, in this case the Top Gun school of Boy's Own cinema.
    His secondary targets include Tom Cruise and any recent hit movie with a scene worth stealing. Overall, Abrahams's picture is more on target than The Naked Gun 2 1/2 : The Smell of Fear, the latest film [1991] from his former co-director David Zucker.
    You already know the story. Hotshot jet jock Sean "Topper" Harley (Charlie Sheen) is the kid who's always wanted to "fly, bomb stuff and kill people."
    His natural abilities notwithstanding, Harley is a hotdog with complex personal problems stemming from the fact that he is the son of a disgraced military aviator.
    The Dudley Naval Air Station psychiatrist, beautiful Ramada Thompson (Valeria Golino, who played Tom Cruise's girlfriend in 1981's Rain Man), calls his condition "parental conflict syndrome."
    Since this is the kind of movie in which the troubled loner discovers that the navy is his true family, Harley's barracks mates include icy blond paragon Kent Gregory (Cary Elwes), who turns out to be the son of the man whose life Harley's father failed to save.
    Also in the group is super-nice Pete "Dead Meat" Thompson (William O'Leary), the son of the hunter who mistook the downed Gregory Senior for a deer. And, of course, there is walleyed Jim "Wash Out" Pfaffenback (Jon Cryer), who mistakes everything because of his visual impairment.
    Funny? Well, sort of.
    In their by-now-familiar shotgun style, comedy writers Abrahams and Pat Proft keep the sight and sound gags coming at a break-neck pace. Throwaway references to Cruise in 1988's Cocktail and Born on the Fourth of July (1989) whiz by among the take-it-or-leave-it bits.
    The problem is the picture's primary target. Top Gun and its ilk — recent hardware war fantasies such as 1990’s Fire Birds, The Flight of the Intruder (1991) and Navy SEALS (1990) — really are self-parodies, over-the-top examples of military macho made with the straight-faced co-operation of the American armed forces.
    Then, there is Canadian director Sid Furie's Iron Eagle series, films that are sold as aerial adventures but that play like satirical comedies. The soon-to-be-released Iron Eagle III [1992] features the continuing hero, USAF Col. Charles "Chappy" Sinclair (Louis Gossett Jr.), battling South American drug lords.
    Although ostensibly a shot at service excesses, Abrahams's picture actually subscribes to the Pentagon's own doctrine of overkill. Like a true hotshot, the director performs his mission dutifully, unmindful of the fact that the target has already been destroyed.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1991. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: And what glorious victory was the poppy-wearing population recalling in 1991? Well, there was that six-months-plus Operation Desert Storm, during which the U.S.-led “coalition of the willing” (which included Canada) defeated evil-doer Saddam Hussein to liberate Kuwait and make the Middle East safe for democracy. Let’s take a moment to remember how well that worked out.
    Remembrance Day, we are told, is held to honour those “who made the ultimate sacrifice” for king and country. Ahead of the 1919 observances, King George V specifically asked the public to observe a silence at 11 a.m. so "the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.” That focus, as worthy as it is, diverts attention from the issue of war itself, its meaning and its purpose in today’s world. Instead of another mournful rendition of Taps, our public broadcasters should be playing soul singer Edwin Starr’s 1970 hit War, with it unambiguous chorus “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin'!"
    I’ve no evidence to suggest that director Jim Abrahams had any subversive political intent in his decision to heckle the military-entertainment complex in his Top Gun-mocking Hot Shots!. Even so, as a Hollywood insider he was well aware of the fact that the U.S. Department of Defense (a.k.a. the Pentagon) has had its own entertainment liaison office since 1946. It can and does request script changes in exchange for advice and permission to use locations, personnel and equipment such as jet fighters and aircraft carriers. He also would have known that 1986's Top Gun was a Pentagon-sponsored response to the various anti-war features that followed 1979’s Apocalypse Now into the movie marketplace. Directed by former TV adman Tony Scott, Top Gun was a content-free Navy recruiting poster that deserved the derision that Abrahams's Hot Shots! heaped upon it.