Back in 1980, writer-directors David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams teamed up to create Airplane!, the landmark send-up of one of the most cliche-ridden, typecast, overwrought melodramas of all time, Airport. Airplane! was silly, schmaltzy shtick that worked because it dared to be stupid at a time when it seemed every comedy had to strive for social relevance. It would be hard to find many similarities between the broad, sophomoric humor of the Abrahams-Zucker feature and the previous year's most talked-about comedy, Woody Allen's Manhattan.
Through the years, the A-Z team went on to write and direct The Naked Gun and Ruthless People. But in 1990 the partnership dissolved; David Zucker took Leslie Nielsen and made The Naked Gun 2 1/2; Abrahams grabbed Lloyd Bridges, teamed him with Charlie Sheen, Valeria Golino, and Cary Elwes, and made Hot Shots!.
Suffice it to say that Zucker vs. Abrahams is not likely to supersede the John vs. Paul controversy or the Batman vs. Superman conundrum as the most hotly debated dilemma of the Twentieth Century.
For the record, however, I'm more of a Leslie Nielsen (as Lt. Frank Drebin, the wackiest law enforcement official since Inspector Clouseau) fan than a Charlie Sheen (Topper Harley) or Lloyd Bridges (Tug Benson) aficionado. I passed on Hot Shots! when it had its theatrical run, then fell asleep while watching the video. Bear that in mind while reading my critique of Abrahams's second Zuckerless effort, Hot Shots! Part Deux.
From the outset, Part Deux is sillier, less concerned with plot, and more scattershot in its range of send-ups than its predecessor. The basic premise has something to do with Charlie Sheen as a Rambo-like figure called in to rescue a squad of American commandos who went into Iraq to rescue the men who went in to rescue the men who were captured during Desert Storm. Or something like that.
There are two love interests this time around A Golino and relative newcomer Brenda Bakke, who rises above the caliber of acting suggested by her previous credits, Gunmen (with noted thespians Christopher Lambert and Mario Van Peebles) and Hardbodies II. But it's not the actresses who run around topless in this movie, it's Sheen. And man, is he buffed.
After reading the script and realizing his pecs were an integral part of the picture, Sheen flew to Maui with a personal trainer and embarked upon a workout regimen he called "Death Camp '92." He followed a six-day-a-week program of roadwork, weights, yoga, swimming, and martial arts. The results are truly impressive.
If only the same could be said for the rest of the film. There are moments, of course A with so many gags fired at so many targets, there were bound to be a few hits. (Even the promotional materials are peppered with one-liners.) One scene in particular, a brief Rambo meets Apocalypse Now skit, is inspired anarchy.
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But every Lady and the Tramp parody is offset by at least two fart jokes. It's hard to make Mel Brooks look artful and coherent, but this film does.
Given my prejudice, I tried to temper my critical view by gauging the response of my fellow preview audience members. Initially, they were much more enthusiastic than I was, chortling frequently during the first fifteen minutes. But as the film wore on, the between-yuk pauses lasted longer and the enthusiasm behind the laughter waned from gut-busting roars to the occasional titter.
Maybe it had something to do with a general disregard for plot and character development (counting too heavily on our familiarity with the principals from Hot Shots! as well as the plethora of films being caricatured). Perhaps there are so many knee-slappers compressed into one movie that even viewers from the MTV generation experience sensory overload. Or maybe, just maybe, the novelty has begun to wear off.
I suspect that Lt. Frank Drebin holds the key.