Hoping that you’ll never be able to watch Top Gun the same way again, Hot Shots! has come around as a spoof movie in the same vein as Airplane! and The Naked Gun. The direct base is the aforementioned Top Gun, which starred Tom Cruise as a fighter pilot who had to overcome his own demons. This one stars Charlie Sheen and has him overcoming his own hotshot personality, as well as the consensus that his father’s same tendencies wound up killing another pilot a few decades earlier.
Sheen plays Topper Harley, a man recently discharged from the U.S. Navy, but finds himself being asked back to help with a new mission, apparently ignoring the fact that he could get his entire squadron killed with his foolishness. Ah, but here comes the twist: Lt. Commander Block (Kevin Dunn), the man who asked Topper to come back, actually wants the plan to fail. He’s been approached by a couple of businessmen who want the Navy to buy their new plane, and if the mission fails they all figure that the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment will entice the purchase of their plane. Right.
That’s not a spoiler, in case you’re wondering. We know it early on; it’s just that none of the other characters know it. Topper has to go through what little plot there is, which involves training up in order to do this mission, have a romance with his Navy-appointed therapist (Valeria Golino), and play out a rivalry with Kent (Cary Elwes), who is the son of the man Topper’s father purportedly killed with his overconfidence and recklessness.
If you’ve seen Airplane! or The Naked Gun, you know the type of humor to expect from this film. It’s a very silly style of humor, making fun of pretty much everything involved in the production. Things happen you won’t expect, and yet many times the characters won’t even react to them, as if they didn’t even happen. You will see and hear absolutely ridiculous things in Hot Shots!, and you will likely laugh at quite a few of them. The spoof movie isn’t exactly memorable, but in the moment it’s usually quite enjoyable, assuming it’s done right.
And Hot Shots! certainly is done right. It doesn’t reach the levels of the other two spoof films already mentioned, but it’s definitely funny enough to be worth seeing. There’s a lot of creativity packed into the brief running time, most of the gags are quite humorous, and nothing drags on longer than it needs to. It’s hard to dislike a movie like this one. It accomplishes its modest goal of making you laugh a lot, while also poking a lot of fun at Top Gun.
A movie like Hot Shots! is practically critic-proof. Any of the complaints that I have could be dismissed as intentional and part of the spoof from the film’s perspective. For instance, there’s isn’t a whole lot of plot to the film. It, or its makers, would defend that by saying it was making fun of the lack of plot in Top Gun. The forced love story would be defended in the same way. It doesn’t really matter, as the only important thing is whether or not the film is funny, but I’d like to point this out because it’s almost impossible to truly criticize this movie.
In order for a spoof film to work out, its creators need a genuine love for the material that is being spoofed. When the humor isn’t there, it’s often because of either a disdain or a lack of understanding of the source material. Why a movie like Airplane! (a spoof of disaster flicks) or The Naked Gun (cop movies and TV shows are the target) works is because of the affection that they show for their target of satire. Hot Shots! shares that love, and succeeds because of it.
Top Gun is not the only movie that is used as a base here, even though the general story is using it as the primary inspiration. Dances with Wolves, Superman, one specific scene of 9 1/2 Weeks — you’ll know the one — and a bunch of other movies get one-off jokes taken at their expense. Some scenes are directly stolen and then taken to the extreme. And the actors play it straight, because deadpan makes this stuff funny. They’re not laughing, but we most certainly are.
While the lead is Charlie Sheen, who has comedic chops and definitely could carry the film, the standout performance comes from Lloyd Bridges, who plays RDML Tug Benson, a man who has been through so many wars, surgeries and fake body parts that it’s amazing he’s still alive. The dialogue that was either written for him or improvised by him is the best in the entire film, and if you have no other reason to watch Hot Shots!, it’s to see the absolute insanity that comes with this character. It’s really something.
Hot Shots!, while not reaching the level of earlier Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker spoof films, is still a lot of fun and works both as a loving parody and biting satire of Top Gun, as well as a handful of other films. The comedy is strong, the actors are wonderfully deadpan, and it’s really difficult to dislike it. Lloyd Bridges is a scene-stealer, and you should watch the film just to see where that character goes with each scene that passes, because you won’t see such absurdity very often.