Top Secret comes to DVD in a new “I Love the ’80s” edition. The film continues the legacy of David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams as kings of sight gags and the ludicrously unexpected. Made in 1984, the film stars a young Val Kilmer as rocker Nick Rivers, an artist so clearly modeled after Elvis that he even sings potential lover Hillary Flammond a spoof version of “Are You Lonesome Tonight”.
Rivers is also modeled after the Beach Boys with his “skeet surfin'” music. Both versions of him are quite funny, as is the rest of the film. In fact, Top Secret is almost too funny for its own good. There is so much going on in the background scenes alone that you could watch it five times and still not catch everything. Chances are you won’t find the main story as funny as the tiny subtleties going on in the distance. And if you’re not watching very carefully, there’s a good chance you’ll dismiss it as idiocy without giving it a fair enough shake.
Of course, that’s not to say the film isn’t idiocy. Much of the main action is too on-the-nose obvious for my taste. The faux German last rites, the rubber “Find Him and Kill Him” stamp, and the East German National Anthem, scenes are too reminiscent of earlier, more original films, such as Blazing Saddles and some of Abrahams and the Zuckers’ other work (From the Files of Police Squad!, Airplane).
But there is enough subtle brilliance left in the tank to tide fans over for the Naked Gun films, which hit big a few years after this was released.
The Ford Pinto.
Chocolate Mousse’s machine gun blitz.
The opening montage of Rivers’ astoundingly absurd, gun-control-liberal’s worst nightmare, career.
The Anal Intruder.
There are plenty of strong laughs with a thrillingly stupid underwater fight scene at the film’s climax, to keep fans going. Whatever Abrahams and the Zuckers were smoking at this point in their careers – well, it was pretty good stuff.
Previous releases from the “I Love the ’80s” series could learn something from this 1.85:1 transfer. A strong color showing and contrast make up for the occasional wear marks on the print. For the most part, it’s a good clean picture that highlights Val Kilmer’s better days.
The disc is armed with four tracks: a 5.1 and 2.0 English, French monaural, and group commentary featuring Abrahams, the Zuckers, and producers Jon Davison and Hunt Lowry with Fred Rubin, moderator. The 5.1 is actually a very solid effort. Background ambience plays nicely through the rear channels, highlighted in scenes such as Rivers’ arrest and near execution – lots of clear background noise and voices in those scenes. And what about that “Trojan Cow” sequence! Volume on dialog levels is also strong.
Group Commentary – Abrahams and the Zuckers are often content to sit and watch the film, commenting and laughing on what is happening instead of their motivation behind scenes and evolution of the project’s development. Rubin has to fight for everything he gets, and it’s a losing battle. Needless to say, Abrahams and the Zuckers are better writers and directors than film historians.
Alternate Scenes – Only about 3 minutes in length, these scenes should have been cut back into the film, particularly the Fetch scene.
Storyboards – “Skeet Surfin’,” “The Nightclub,” and “Nick in Prison,” are all scenes storyboarded with amusing Archie Comics-like clarity – worth a look once or twice.
Rounding out the bonus materials: the original theatrical trailer.
Top Secret is, in a lot of ways, a victim of Abrahams’ and the Zuckers’ bigger hits. Not original enough to be remembered, but too funny to be forgotten, it’s one of those films you’ll watch and enjoy the hell out of, but forget about two months later. In league with other cult favorites such as Amy Heckerling’s Johnny Dangerously, Top Secret is dreadfully stupid, but highly effective. With a strong A/V presentation and a satisfying sprinkling of extras, this film is just waiting for rediscovery.