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Film review: Hot Shots!

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 6 1991 12:00 a.m. MDT

Is there really room for two big-budget, very silly, off-the-wall comedies in one summer?

The ZAZ gang seems to think so.

For the uninitiated, ZAZ is Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, the three writer-directors of "Airplane!" "Top Gun" and "Ruthless People."

These days, however, the boys have gone solo. One Zucker did "Ghost," which means he could probably retire. The other Zucker did the current "Naked Gun 21/2: The Smell of Fear," which is a big hit. And now Abrahams has "Hot Shots!" going up against "Naked Gun 21/2" in the latest round of summer box-office con-tenders.

And — surprise, surprise — "Hot Shots!" is a riot, every bit as funny, and dumb, as ZAZ's earlier parodies.

As you probably know already, "Hot Shots!" is a spoof of such flyboy epics as "Top Gun" and its many clones, as well as the similar films that filled movie theaters during World War II.

But it doesn't stop there. "Hot Shots!" also parodies "Dances With Wolves," "Superman," "Gone With the Wind," "Rocky," and for film buffs, "Marathon Man," "The Right Stuff," "91/2 Weeks," "The Fabulous Baker Boys" . . . and so on. Tom Cruise gets lampooned not only via "Top Gun," but also with quick glances at "Cocktail" and "The Color of Money."

Charlie Sheen, playing it straight and deadpan, of course, stars as Topper Harley, the hot-shot pilot with a bad rep. Cary Elwes ("The Princess Bride") is the preening, narcissistic Kent Gregory, who has a history with base psychiatrist Ramada Thompson (Valeria Golino, best known as Tom Cruise's girlfriend in "Rain Man"). To Kent's chagrin, Topper and Ramada, naturally, begin a romance.

Then there's Lloyd Bridges as the obtuse admiral in charge of the base, which he plays as a variation on his "Airplane!" role; Jon Cryer as "Wash Out," the nearly blind flyer who becomes a radar expert; and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as a villain.

There is a story, more or less, about a secret bombing raid on Saddam Hussein's nuclear bomb facility — or, as a secondary target, a mime school — made up of every war movie cliche you can imagine. But it's the lickety-split succession of silly jokes that are the reason to see "Hot Shots!" From sight gags to non sequiturs to broad movie spoofs, this one is packed with laughs.

One could complain that there are too many pratfalls and not enough clever, convoluted pieces of dialogue or slapstick. Nor are there any bright set-pieces that work as well as some of those in "Airplane!" or the first "Naked Gun." But on the whole, "Hot Shots!" contains enough jokes that work, in between those that don't, to make it worth the price of admission.

I mean, what can you say about a movie that has a running gag about sitting on a Chihuahua and displays a recipe for a brownie topping in the end credits?

"Hot Shots!" is rated PG-13 for comic violence, a few profanities, some vulgar gags and a comic sex scene, though there's nothing here quite as raunchy as some of the "Naked Gun" or "Airplane!" gags.