A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the puns, one-liners, quips, and sight gags come fast and furious in this silly spy spoof from the same team that created the Airplane! films. Some of the material in the 1984 film is dated today, but most of the jokes hold up. Val Kilmer is impressive in this early role, singing, dancing, and demonstrating excellent comic timing. There are some off-color remarks and several scenes that have sexual images, though they are more ridiculous than erotic.
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What's the story?
American teen idol Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) is invited to perform at a cultural festival in Germany, unaware that the event is a diversion, and the dastardly Nazi organizers are secretly planning a surprise attack in this laugh-a-minute parody of World War II action flicks. After he arrives, Rivers meets a beautiful woman (Lucy Gutteridge), gets thrown into jail, discovers the top secret plot, and becomes involved with a band of daring resistance fighters who are trying to rescue an imprisoned scientist.
Is it any good?
If the story sounds like a complicated mish-mash of plot threads, well, that's the point. The narrative structure in TOP SECRET! is really just a framework for the non-stop jokes. Yes, some of the lines are stinkers, and some must have seemed funnier in the 1980s than they do today. But there are so many jokes, puns, sly references, sight gags, and recurring bits that two or three strike home for every one that misses the mark.
The film was directed by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker, the same genius team that created this spoof genre with their earlier Airplane! movies. This model has been used over and over again, sometimes effectively (the first Scary Movie stands out) and sometimes not (hopefully nobody can Remember the Spartans). Some of the more recent entries in the field seem tired, trying to wring jokes out of obvious references to other pop culture touchstones, but early efforts like Top Secret! had strong scripts and still deliver plenty of laughs. A young Val Kilmer shines, singing, dancing, and delivering one ridiculous line after another with a completely straight face. And look for Omar Sharif in a small role as a nearly-indestructible secret agent.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about parody. Many of the jokes in this film are funny because of their sly references to other films. Is it possible to enjoy this movie without an understanding of pop culture and the common elements, and tired clichés, of World War II action movies? How has this genre evolved since this movie was released? Can you spot this formula at work in other, more recent parodies? Which ones pull it off well, and which ones fail to deliver?
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