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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/25/02

Top Secret!
1984 (2002) - Paramount

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Top Secret! Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A-/B

Specs and Features

90 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 46:31 in chapter 17), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary track (with writers/directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and producers Jon Davison and Hunt Lowry), 4 deleted scenes, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0) and French (DD mono), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

"There is sauerkraut in my lederhosen..."

I've taken quite a bit of guff from certain readers for my less than flattering reviews of such comedic faux pas as Dude, Where's My Car and 2000's remake of Bedazzled. Infuriated fans of those (*ahem*) comedies demand to know what exactly I think is funny, if I even have a sense of humor at all, and how much cyanide it would take to kill me. So, for all you skeptics out there, I give you Top Secret!. Brought to you by the geniuses that are Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker, Top Secret! doesn't stray too far from the pun-heavy, sight-gag-laced style of the trio's better known films, such as Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane and Naked Gun. As much as I love those films - which I consider comedic classics - Top Secret! is my favorite of the bunch, and one of my top three favorite comedies of all time (because you asked, the other two are the Marx Brothers' Animal Crackers and Woody Allen's Love and Death).

Top Secret! is a bit more story-driven than other ZAZ films, but it's nothing too hard to keep up with. Val Kilmer makes his big screen debut here, playing American rock sensation Nick Rivers, who is invited to oppressive East Germany during the 1950s to perform in a cultural celebration. However, this particular celebration is a front for the evil government to unleash an attack against U.S. and NATO forces. Nick - a wisecrackin' kid with authority issues - stumbles upon the beautiful, busty Hillary (Lucy Gutteridge), who is part of the French resistance force fighting the oppressive government. The Germans have kidnapped Hillary's scientist father and forced him to create the secret weapon with which they will pull off their dastardly plot. So it's up to Nick, Hillary and their French rebel pals (Chocolát Mousse, Soufflé, Montage, Déjà vu, Latrine and the rest of the gang) to foil the wicked plot.

The humor in Top Secret! is almost all visual. Some witticism and puns are thrown in for good measure, but for the most part, sight gags abound. Like any comedy out there, not every joke works, but a good 90-95% work... and work in a big way. The humor is clever, perfectly timed and even occasionally cerebral. While some jokes are predictable (a comedy sin), the vast majority are unexpected and seem like tasty surprises when they're revealed. The comedic performances of the main cast are all wonderful, while Peter Cushing and Omar Sharif - two names not exactly associated with "funny" - also turn in surprisingly adept performances.

The only aspects of this film holding it back from near perfection are the four or so musical performances scattered within. In this film, Kilmer is a cross between Elvis Presley and Brian Wilson, and he performs several ditties throughout (Val "Jim Morrison" Kilmer sings all of the numbers himself). While the numbers are fun, they're not particularly funny, and hold back the pace of the film (all except Nick's Macy's jingle, which is one of the film's highlights). If they were cut, the flick would probably run fewer than 80-minutes, however unnecessary padding never made a film great.

For an 18-year-old film, Top Secret! looks quite nice on DVD. While the transfer does show off the film's age, with slightly muted colors, there's still much to like. The source master used is in remarkably good shape, as no overt blemishes or scratches hamper the experience. While grain is apparent, it's not excessive given the film source. The picture isn't razor-sharp-perfect, but hey - it's an 18-year-old film! Simply put, Top Secret! has never looked better.

The brand new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is a pleasant surprise. The numerous action sequences in the film light up the soundstage, while the musical numbers have never sounded so sweet. I never thought I'd hear Skeet Surfin' in surround sound! Time, once again, rears its ugly head in the sound mix, as the overall track has a slightly sibilant tone that today's blockbuster surround sound mixes lack. But, c'mon! Skeet Surfin' in surround sound! You know you can't resist...

While not overflowing with supplements, fans of Top Secret! do get an entertaining audio commentary track with writers/directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, and producers Jon Davison and Hunt Lowry. The ZAZ trio are quite funny and self-deprecating while they talk about the film's disappointing run at the box office. It's not quite the laugh fest their tracks on Naked Gun and Airplane are, but it's still well worth a listen. Paramount has also included four deleted scenes, which are nothing to write home about, but are a very nice inclusion for fans. Last but not least, look for the film's theatrical trailer.

If you like to laugh (and who doesn't?), then you owe it to yourself to check out Top Secret!. While not as well known as Airplane and Naked Gun, it's every bit as good, if not better. Buy this disc right now, or I'll put your name on the Neiman-Marcus mailing list...

Greg Suarez
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