This review was written for our old movie review radio show during a stretch of the summer of 1991 dire enough that one of the other films covered on the same episode was Return to the Blue Lagoon. While I’m already fairly down on the film in this review, I suspect Hot Shots! is one of those films that aged particularly poorly.
It may seem a little late for a parody of the Tom Cruise smash hit Top Gun. After all, it has been five years since Cruise squeezed his smug grin into a navy fighter plane and soared to superstardom. But when you consider the number of Top Gun wannabes the last few years — and the fact that the same sort of bravado that made Top Gun a hit was still in the air earlier this year when the U.S. Armed Forces spent a little time in the Gulf — maybe Jim Abrahams and Pat Proft have picked the perfect time to release Hot Shots!
Though Top Gun is the movie that Abrahams and Proft clearly used as their jumping off point, they don’t limit themselves to that release or even war movies in general. There are also jabs at Dances with Wolves, The Fabulous Baker Boys, and a very funny take-off on 9½ Weeks. In fact, one of the real joys of Hot Shots! is identifying what film or genre is being sent up in any given scene. Unfortunately, that is often more enjoyable than the jokes that are packed into the film.
When it comes to the gags, Hot Shots! misfires more often than it should. Abrahams and Proft rely on cheap slapstick and bad puns too often. And how many “Let’s treat the jet fighters as if they were cars” jokes are really necessary?
That’s not to say Hot Shots! isn’t without its wildly funny moments. There are plenty of laughs as the unfortunately named “Dead Meat” Thompson races to his final fate. And Lloyd Bridges, who got plenty of experience with this type of humor in the 1980 release Airplane!, steals every scene he’s in with his whacked-out performance as Admiral Benson, who’s been shot down so many times that he’s never landed a plane and has had almost every body part replaced with a metal, plastic, or Corning Ware replica.
But any movie of this type has to sustain its comedy throughout, otherwise the portion when you’re not laughing seem to go on forever, and that happens a lot in Hot Shots! Too often, in fact. Hot Shots! may be a movie that soars from time to time, but it can make for a rather uncomfortable ninety minute trip.
2 stars, out of 4.