Hollywood Pictures // 1996 // 81 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // July 22nd, 1999
All the action. All the women. Half the intelligence.
A typical goofy Leslie Nielsen movie, this installment spoofs the general James Bond franchise and numerous other successful movies with moderate success.
Okay, well, here we go again. Leslie Nielsen seems to have made a career specialty of playing goofy heroes in silly movies ever since Airplane! and the short-lived "Police Squad" TV series, and Spy Hard is just the latest one to reach DVD. Nobody is going to mistake Spy Hard for great cinema or classic comedy, but it's just an excuse to get silly, fire off jokes and gags in rapid succession, and poke fun at whatever recent big box-office movies you can find.
The story (such as it is) starts with Agent WD-40 (Leslie Nielsen) on a mission to take out a ruthless arms dealer, General Rancor (Andy Griffith), with the help of his lover and assistant, Victoria Dahl (Stephanie Romanov). Rancor meets an explosive end, but tragically, Victoria is killed as well. We segue into the title credit sequence, which I must point out because it is a deadly parody of the classic James Bond title sequences thanks to the directorial and musical talents of our parody king, "Weird Al" Yankovic.
We return to the story fifteen years later, as Victoria's daughter, Barbara Dahl (same actress!) infiltrates Rancor Industries ("3,501 evil deeds to date") only to be captured by the still living but unarmed General Rancor. The villain uses this as his chance to lure WD-40 into a trap and take his revenge, with the added bonus of threatening the world with a doomsday weapon. This causes great concern at the Secret Service Agency ("Keeping America Quiet"), where The Director (Charles Durning), Norman Coleman (Barry Bostwick), and Agent Steve Bishop (Robert Guillaume) confer over whether to take WD-40 out of retirement. This is an excuse for a sequence ripping on In the Line of Fire, after which we see WD-40 escape the deadly intentions of a romantic conquest (Alexandra Paul).
WD-40 is reluctant to return to active duty, but a few more cheap laughs later, he's convinced, and off to Los Angeles, but not before encountering an exquisitely beautiful woman (Nicolette Sheridan) and an abrasive businessman (Robert Culp). After landing in L.A., we get the Spy Hard version of the "Meet with Q and Get the Gadgets" scene from the James Bond flicks. WD-40 barely settles into his suite at the Hotel Exorbitante before one of Rancor's assassins tries her luck (Talisa Soto, a onetime "Bond Girl" in License to Kill). A plot device later, we're at the Coca Cabana, where WD-40 is reunited with the beautiful girl at the airport, who helps him to escape from two of Rancor's thugs. This leads into a runaway bus sequence (ripped from Speed), and then WD-40 and his beautiful friend share a drink. We learn that she is actually Agent 3.14, who is also after General Rancor. A Pulp Fiction style dance sequence later, Agent 3.14 is kidnapped, leaving WD-40 to carry on.
Attempting to track down a part for General Rancor's doomsday weapon, WD-40 is again set upon by a Rancor assassin, setting up a sequence ripped from True Lies. A snicker or two later, WD-40 finds Professor Ukrinsly (Elya Baskin), father of Agent 3.14 and who possesses the vital part. WD-40 stashes the Professor at the home of another agent, McCluckey (Mason Gamble), who does an extended Home Alone riff. Attempting to track one of Rancor's henchmen back to his lair, WD-40 runs through a convent, parodying Sister Act, and happily rescues Agent 3.14 who had been held captive there. She is so grateful that we get a brief "love scene" (with obligatory visual euphemisms), before Rancor's thugs crash the "Home Alone" and kidnap the Professor.
WD-40 and 3.14 track the kidnapped Professor to General Rancor's lair, leading to a James Bond-esque final scene. WD-40 and 3.14 are captured, but escape Rancor's unnecessarily elaborate death mechanism, free the various hostages, neutralize the doomsday weapon, and finish off Rancor once and for all.
The story is just enough to hang a string of gags and joke sequences together. The humor is not subtle, but fortunately it avoids excessive crudity. The jokes are occasionally hilarious, and usually at least smile-worthy. As with the story, the acting is not exactly a major factor, as the main task is not to get in the way of the stream of jokes. Leslie Nielsen is exactly the goofy hero we expect, but I was pleasantly surprised by Ms. Sheridan (aside from being a nice distraction, she has at least some degree of comic ability). WD-40's highly verbal driver, Kabul (John Ales) is perhaps the best comic actor after Leslie Nielsen. The rest of the cast is filled with quite a list of cameos from all sorts of people, so keep an eye out!
The video is pretty much what I would expect from a Buena Vista title. Namely, good quality, but sadly non-anamorphic. Color saturation is good, and the picture is generally clear and crisp. There is a slight degree of dirt and film defects and a few scenes seem a tad too softly focused. The sound is adequate for a comedy, but nothing astounding, given the type of film. On the other hand, your subwoofer will provide more support than you might have expected.
The extras are limited, but more than I've seen on some Buena Vista titles. There is a very softly focused full-frame trailer (ick!) and a 4 1/2 minute "featurette" (movie scenes and some brief interviews stitched together). That's it, unless you count a couple of screens of recommended movies (who cares!). The menus are movie themed and static, and we get the disc in the preferred Amaray keep case.
As with my colleagues here at the Verdict, it is getting a bit tiresome to keep repeating ourselves when reviewing Buena Vista (and cohorts) discs. Picture quality is generally good, audio is okay, but annoyingly non-anamorphic and with only minimal extras. Come on, guys, flip the switch on the telecine and get a couple of staffers to hunt up biographical information, and heck, maybe even throw on a web-link or two. Or even a trailer for another movie? Ye Gods!
As for the movie, you will need patience in some spots. Some jokes are lame, a few aren't funny, and one sight gag is offensive (to a Catholic, at least). The best of the humor is loaded into the start of the film, as it gradually winds down to the end. Thankfully, wise men made this a short movie and ended it before it became painful to watch.
Definitely worth a rental, but unless you are a Leslie Nielsen fan, or have a low threshold of humor, I doubt if it's worth the retail price ($30), even discounted on the Internet.
The film is guilty of misdemeanor lame comedy, and Buena Vista continues to express its contempt for this Court with its very limited enthusiasm for DVD. For shame!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Hollywood Pictures
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical Trailer