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Case Number 15638: Small Claims Court

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Top Secret!

Paramount // 1984 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // February 6th, 2009

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All Rise...

I'm Judge Jim Thomas. The name means "He whose reviews defy reason."

Editor's Note

Our review of Top Secret!, published August 9th, 2002, is also available.

The Charge

" Look I'm not the first guy who fell in love with a girl he met in a restaurant who turned out to be the daughter of a kidnapped scientist only to lose her to a childhood lover who she'd last seen on a deserted island and who turned out fifteen years later to be the leader of the French underground."

"I know, it…it all sounds like some bad movie."

The Case

Take a moment, if you would, to use the link just above and read Judge Harold Gervais' review of the 2002 release of Top Secret! Judge Gervais' thoughts are particularly germane for one simple reason:

It's the same frakking disc.

Same crappy transfer, same deleted scenes, same rocking commentary track, same 2002 copyright. In fact, this release has precisely two additional "features" distinguishing it from the earlier release: A butt-ugly "I Love the 80's" cover, and a bonus CD containing a whopping four songs from the '80s: "Lips Like Sugar" by Echo & the Bunnymen, "Chains of Love" by Erasure, "Need You Tonight" by INXS, and "Take on Me" by a-ha. In short, songs that you've been trying to forget for the past twenty years have returned to haunt you yet again. Thanks a lot, Paramount. Don't be surprised when you start receiving therapy bills.

The court also agrees with Judge Gervais on the technical aspects of the disc: the image is just flat-out bad, the audio is serviceable, and the commentary is fun, if sporadic.

Where this court begs to differ with Judge Gervais is on the artistic merits of the film itself. Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker (ZAZ) made this movie between their short-lived TV series Police Squad! and The Naked Gun, and the movie shows clear signs of their artistic development. They keep the things that work, such as placing an exclamation point at the end of the title (a lesson not lost on country superstar Shania Twain when she wrote "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!"). They also moved on from shamelessly parodying a single film, such as Zero Hour, and graduated to shamelessly parodying Elvis films, surfer films, and World War II espionage films, with the occasional nod to Casablanca along the way. In this court's opinion, that's growth. If that growth comes at the cost of any semblance of a coherent plot, who are we to judge? [Editor's Note: Ahem. You do remember the name of this site?] Oh, all right. Yes, it's true the plot makes little sense, but since the plot is basically an excuse to string a bunch of silly scenes together, it still manages to work, if by "work" you mean "keep the jokes coming." In the commentary track, ZAZ are frank about the film's deficiencies, citing the absent plot and the generally weak characterization as reasons the film fared poorly at the box office.

The acting is decent. Val Kilmer (Real Genius) shines as teen rocker Nick Rivers; Lucy Gutteridge has the right look for the European heroine, but is oddly detached. Their characters, as well as the others, are so stereotypical (intentionally) that you never become emotionally invested. There are no deadpan breakout stars such as Leslie Nielsen, but the screenplay doesn't require any. Freed from the confines of an airplane and airport, ZAZ had a lot more options for visual humor, and they seldom miss an opportunity. You'll see an extended send-up of The Blue Lagoon, a cow with boots, and an underwater bar fight. You want more? At the beginning of the film, a concert marquee illustrates how popular Nick is:

And if time permits

The Chairman never had ZAZ's collective legs broken; hence he must have approved. Is further evidence really needed?

Top Secret! is one of those movies that you either like or hate. My wife can't stand it, while I think it at least rivals Airplane! for sheer absurdity. If you're a fan of this type of comedy, have at it, but if you see the older version in the remainder bin, buy that instead and send Paramount a message about bombarding us with '80s faux nostalgia in a futile attempt to camouflage yet another double-dip.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 78

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
• English
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Storyboard Sequences
• Theatrical Trailer
• Music CD


• IMDb

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