May 25, 2018
Hot Shots! (1991)
Grade: 27/100

Director: Jim Abrahams
Stars: Charlie Sheen, Valeria Golino, Cary Elwes

What it's about. A parody of Top Gun, the 1986 Tom Cruise blockbuster. Other films are channelled, such as An Officer and a Gentleman. Charlie Sheen is the reckless but talented pilot. His hard-to-get love interest is Valeria Golino. His rival is Cary Elwes. Jon Cryer is the "wash out" character who can't cut it in the Navy, William O'Leary is the doomed "Dead Meat" buddy of Sheen, Lloyd Bridges is the senile Admiral, Kevin Dunn is Bridges' ambitious wingman, and so forth.

We know that Sheen will win the love interest and save the day, in that order, because that is the formula of the source movies. What matters are the gags along the way. The percentages that work, or fall flat, depend upon the generosity of the viewer.

How others will see it. Writer/director Jim Abrahams first drew notice as the writer of Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), the National Lampoon-ish send-up of television. He is best known as the director of Airplane! (1980), the wildly successful satire of Airport and similar disaster movies. Abrahams subsequently did well commercially with the Naked Gun series, and finally Hot Shots! before his golden touch went south.

His Airplane! script was good enough to draw Best Screenplay nominations from BAFTA and the Writers Guild. But satire comedy is surprisingly difficult to pull off, even with Leslie Nielsen on board. But expectations are apparently low, and viewers seem willing to endure many failed jokes to get to the comparatively few that work, such as the "sizzling hot" Golino frying bacon on her belly.

Hot Shots! was ignored altogether by film festivals, but it was the producers with the last laugh, laughing all the way to the bank. The movie had a ridiculous worldwide gross of $180M way back in 1991, many multiples of its $26M budget. The user vote total of 88K shows continued interest, though the user votes drop somewhat from 6.8 under age 45, to 6.3 over age 45. Those desperate for a laugh will find some, particularly the "Two and a Half Men" crowd who want to catch Charlie Sheen in his younger years.

How I felt about it. Airplane! was an almost-good movie, but it was also the best associated with Jim Abrahams. It is natural to ask why Airplane! is considerably better than Hot Shots!. It is too easy to say that this is because Top Gun itself was not a good movie, and thus Abrahams had little to work with.

It is more accurate to note the difficulty of producing good satire, of any kind. A given episode of "Saturday Night Live", for example, is littered with skits that don't work. Satire may work best when it isn't aimed at anything in particular, such as W.C. Fields' Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. One would think that structure, such as following the plot of a given blockbuster, would help such a film along. But Bringing Up Baby is a riot without mocking any film in particular. Animal House, a comedy that undeniably works, has a dark undercurrent of contempt for wealth and privilege.

But back to Hot Shots!. It is true that Sheen, with his "what, me worry" attitude, is ideally cast for weathering with indifference all the jokes that fail. And Valeria Golino may not have many good lines, but at least she is nice to look at, and has a sexy foreign accent. Still, this is one hard film to get through, despite the infrequent gag that delivers, such as a funeral gun salute mistaken for an enemy assault.