Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Hot Shots! - 1991

"Hot Shots!" - 1991
Dir. by Jim Abrahams - 1 hr. 24 min.

Original Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I probably haven't watched "Hot Shots!" in something like twenty years, but this is exactly the kind of film that teenager me was excited about.  Sure, "Batman" was a big deal, and I'd devour anything with Bill Murray or Chevy Chase in, but this movie right here?  This is the pure, uncut dope I craved.  "Hot Shots!" is in the line of films that started with "Kentucky Fried Movie," ran through "Airplane!," and the "Naked Gun" films.   They're heavy on sight gags and movie parodies, don't require much thought (beyond just getting into the spirit of things), and if you can get in the right frame of mind, these films are a lot of fun.

Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen) is an Air Force washout, living on an Indian Reservation.  But his country needs him, and he's convinced to return to service as a pilot, provided he can pass a psychiatric exam.  Topper falls for his psychiatrist, Ramada Thompson (Valeria Golino), which dumps fuel on a long-running family grudge with Lt. Kent Gregory (Cary Elwes).  Eventually, they must get along to complete a mission.

But that's not important right now.  What is important is "Hot Shots!" is packed with jokes, delivered at a rapid-fire pace.  You have to pay attention to what's going on, as the sight gags hits nearly as frequently.  Some are large gags, like someone getting electrocuted behind a door.

Others are less so, like when Lloyd Bridges pulls out a cigarette case, pulls out a carrot stick, tamps it like a cigarette, and snaps off a healthy bite.  No mention is made of it, at all.  It just exists, and you either notice it or you don't (which means you're missing like half the movie).  If it feels like I'm harping on this, it's because this is an integral part of this style of humor.  It's fine if this material is too broad and too silly (which I consider it's chief assets) for someone, but if you've half-watched one of these films while futzing around on your computer, you haven't actually seen enough of that film to have an opinion on it.  In some regards, this is an extreme example of pre-second screen life.  Nobody would make a film like this now, because no one could have the confidence that an audience would pay attention to it without deliberately distracting themselves away from it.

Beyond that, this might be the end of prime Charlie Sheen, before his behavior turned him into a caricature of himself.  You've got this and "Major League," and the stuff before that like "Platoon" and his great small role in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."  Afterwards, well, the '90s were pretty much an unmitigated string of suck for Mr. Sheen.  But here, he's getting softballs thrown at him, and he's knocking them out of the park.  The humor here piles up on you, and once one joke hits squarely, you'll spend the rest of the movie giggling from the barrage of jokes.

"Hot Shots!" is something that holds up reasonably well, even removed from the context of the then-contemporary films that it was parodying.  You don't need to have seen "Top Gun" or "Cool as Ice" to laugh at the motley crew that flies with Topper, or Topper's attempt to seduce Ramada on his bike.  It's almost hard to evaluate whether or not movies like this are successful until they're removed from their time; you can't always tell if the humor holds up or is relying too heavily on references until everyone's forgotten the references.  For me, it's still really watchable.  Part of that might be nostalgia, but I'll also never get tired of jokes like, "If I was joking, I'd say, 'What do you do with an elephant with three balls?  Walk him and pitch to the rhino."

3 / 5 - TV

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