FF97 - Top Secret!

Intro by Adam Pranica

There was a time that parody films were actually good and it wasn't even that long ago. The Zucker brothers and Mel Brooks practically created the genre. Their films are great because they were born from an appreciation of their source material. Airplane is great because in addition to being a great comedy it is also crucially a really good airplane movie. And Spaceballs is hilarious in part because it is a real science fiction film. The jokes are sharp, smart, and they get the details right. These filmmakers saw comedy as a craft, something to hone and sharpen and use as a way to understand, engage with, and endure the banalities of life.

Comedy at its best challenges conventional ways of thinking, illuminating a truth that was there all along. That is what makes a laugh so powerful: It is involuntary and explosive. Then Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer came along to set fire to the entire genre. The collateral damage that films like Date Movie, Meet the Spartans, and to a lesser, but no less responsible extent, the entire Scary Movie franchise has done to the genre may be permanent. These types of films and their nihilist brand of reference humor is almost pathologically uninterested in comedy, sacrificing sophistication and a fustying (?) exchange for the half-attention of theater or cable TV viewers known academically as the Lowest Common Denominator, or to everybody else: Idiots.

Which is to say that approaching Top Secret! one really needs to lobotomized the memory of modern spoof films out of themselves first. We are going back to a better time when the rivers of comedy rang clear, crisp, and refreshing, before being polluted with common shit and the Kardashians. Top Secret! is part spy movie, part war movie, and all comedy. It is a clockwork of visual gags, absurd situations, and real jokes. You have to be smart to make something this dumb, and the jokes, even the ones that are just throwaways, come at you at a rate and showing an amount of care that is positively dizzying.

It won't always make you laugh, but it is constantly impressive, and it has an utterly brave performance by Val Kilmer in his very first film. It has to be seen to be believed and even after seeing it I am not sure you believe it exists. What does Top Secret! say about war? Not very much! I know, it all sounds like some kind of bad movie. On today's Friendly Fire, as we laugh our way through a conversation about Top Secret!

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