Wednesday, December 15, 2010

[DVD] Spy Hard (1996)

Oh My!

If the names Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer don't ring a bell, perhaps their directorial efforts for films such as Vampires Suck, Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans, Epic Movie and Date Movie may be more familiar with just how consistently bad they were, following a rote formula of making fun of genre film franchises that somehow wasn't really funny, with more misses than hits with their gags. That formula also states to chalk up a long list of impersonators and to lampoon everything that's pop culture at the moment, and to string a series of bad gags to make up what's essentially some semblance of a story, not.

But it wasn't all that bad to begin with. Early in their career they're responsible for writing the Scary Movie franchise, and made their debut with writing Spy Hard, a film that starred the late Leslie Nielsen, and I suppose back then there was enough budget for the filmmakers to hire bona fide stars such as Ray Charles, Hulk Hogan, the male model Fabio, Mr T and even the late Pat Morita of Karate Kid's Mr Miyagi fame, before the flops spell out the hiring of impersonators (no offense to the profession) since I would believe the stars wouldn't want to go touch these productions with a ten foot pole given a regressing track record.

I've always associated Leslie Nielsen with his better known Naked Gun series, and while his brand of comedy had gone beyond detective Frank Drebin, somehow Nielsen is quite the enigma, and becomes a character in his own right no matter what role he gets to play. Cue the signature blank stares, the innuendos and the physical slapstick comedy that he's perfected, that you'll know you're in for a hoot no matter how bad the story is. Here his Agent WD-40 aka Dick Steele (OK, so here's the cat out of the bag for friends who wonder why "Dick Steel" was a handle I used - dropping the last "e" in Steele for more "bite" during my online gaming days) is the quintessential spoof-Bond, with mysterious charisma and suave to win over the femme fatales, and gets the job done with questionable, unorthodox methods.

Yes, I suppose one of the easiest way to spoof a film or a franchise is to set the sights on James Bond. After all, we have Johnny English and Austin Powers to come after this, so there's plenty of room actually for more of such wannabes who have their equivalent of a theme song, here performed in hilarious fashion and easily one of the best sequences here with a Weird Al Yankovic contribution full of inane lyrics, and keep a close eye on those gyrating silhouettes!

Like all "comedic" films by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer to follow this, Spy Hard is the precursor to their idea that comedy stems from poking fun at the box office successes of the time, and in the mid 90s, we get spoofs here from films such as Jan de Bont's Speed, Spielberg's Jurassic Park, Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, Cameron's True Lies, Wolfgang Petersen's In the Line of Fire and even Sister Act which allowed for some nuns with guns moments. While it's part of the fun spotting, or rather identify all the blatant spoof attempts, this soon wears out their welcome and like their follow up films, it seems that lessons aren't learnt from spoof fatigue. Simply put the story here dwells on Agent WD-40 stopping his arch nemesis General Rancor (Andy Griffith, or TV's Matlock), but its relentless buffoonery didn't quite survive past the halfway mark where jokes consistently fell flat and were unfunny.

Still, the best thing about the film is to watch Leslie Nielsen at his element with yet another Nielsen-isque performance, and for fans around the world, he will definitely be missed as one of the unlikeliest comedians of our generation. Rest in peace, and thank you for the memories.

The Region 1 DVD by Hollywood Pictures Home Entertainment is presented in letterbox format, with audio available in the English and French languages, and closed captioning in English for the hearing impaired. Scene selection is over 17 chapters.

Bonus Materials is very scant, with a Theatrical Trailer (1:52), Additional Titiles which are static ads for Holy Man, Gross Pointe Blank and The Waterboy, and a Production Featurette (4:16) which is a quick behind the scenes look.

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