You know you're in trouble when the highlight of a movie comes during its opening credits.
Such is the case with "Spy Hard," which boasts "Weird Al" Yankovic doing a hilarious music-video spoof of those sexy James Bond title sequences and the songs that accompany them.
But the rest of this off-the-wall comedy rapidly rolls downhill, with a barrage of movie spoofs that convey desperation more than laughter. (Maybe we should have suspected as much from the early ads, which showed Nielsen holding a handgun in the familiar James Bond pose, with his pants around his ankles.)
If that's not enough, the fun of watching Leslie Nielsen spoof his own image - of the earnest B-movie hero he played in dozens of '50s and '60s melodramas - has worn off. While it serviced "Airplane!" quite well, that was 16 years ago. Too many trips to the well have made it threadbare after three "Naked Gun" farces, "Repossessed," "Surf Ninjas" and "Dracula: Dead and Loving It."
Besides, haven't we had enough James Bond spoofs? (And, despite the title, there are no "Die Hard" lampoons on display.)
The meager plot has Nielsen's Dick Steele - agent WD-40 - pitted against an old arch-enemy, Gen. Rancor (Andy Griffith, with blue hair).
Rancor, whose arms were blown off in a previous encounter withSteele, plots to destroy the world, of course - and only Steele can stop him. (He tells Steele: "Leave me alone, I'm an unarmed man.")
But first he will:
- Receive an assignment from a tape that will self-destruct (spoof-ing "Mission: Impossible").
- Go through top-secret papers labled "Up Close & Personal."
- Fail to save the woman he loves from falling to her death ("Cliffhanger").
- Go to CIA headquarters (actually the animation building on the Walt Disney lot, complete with gargoyle statues of the seven dwarfs; "Spy Hard" is a Hollywood Pictures production, a division of Disney) to meet with his chief (Charles Durning) and flirt with the chief's secretary Miss Cheevus (Marcia Gay Harden).
- Ride a bicycle with his girlfriend on the handlebars to the tune of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" ("Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid").
- Board a runaway bus, with Ray Charles driving ("Speed").
- Wear a ponytail and dance seductively with Nicollette Sheridan, who wears a short, black wig ("Pulp Fiction").
- Ride a horse into a hotel elevator ("True Lies").
- Meet up with a blonde kid (Mason Gamble) who throws paint cans at the villains ("Home Alone").
- Pose as a nun and conduct a choir ("Sister Act").1 comment on this story
And the there are cameos by the same people who always show up in these films - Fabio, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Roger Clinton, Hulk Hogan, Mr. T., etc., as well as Barry Bostwick affecting a Kennedy accent and Robert Guilluame.
Of course, the real problem is that the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abraham, who gave us "Airplane!" "Top Secret" and the "Naked Gun" and "Hot Shots!" movies, are not involved here.
And that is especially noticeable when the cast attempts to reprise the classic "What is it?" verbal sparring that worked so well in "Airplane!" but which simply seems tired in this go-around.
"Spy Hard" is rated PG-13 for violence, comic gore ("Weird Al's" head explodes) and the usual scatological and sexual humor, including flatulence, mooning, etc.