Monthly Archives: October 2017

Galaxy Quest

WFTB Score: 12/20

The plot: The stars of TV space action show Galaxy Quest have their convention-attending schedule disrupted by the appearance of particularly convincing aliens. Put in charge of a working replica of their fake ship, the crew of the Protector must put on the performance of a lifetime to save their lives as well as the race that adore them.

A kind-hearted parody of both the original Star Trek TV show and the convention culture of its fans, Galaxy Quest is an amiable comedy that raises smiles of recognition as well as laughs from the jokes themselves. Of course, the central joke will be entirely lost on anyone unfamiliar with both Trek and Trekkies/Trekkers, but that sort of viewer is unlikely to be drawn to this film in any event.

The film’s plot is nicely drawn out, the cast of the TV series initially portrayed as jaded and bickering, bitter at never having outgrown the show. A pleasant but gullible race called the Thermians make contact with lead actor and Shatner/Kirk-alike Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), famous for his role as Captain Peter Taggart; they ask for his assistance in a war against aggressive green enemies and, taking them for particularly devoted fans, he agrees to go to their ‘ship.’

In a nice twist, the Thermians reveal that not only do they consider the Galaxy Quest shows to be historical documents, they have based their technology on the programme too, helping the actors to be instantly familiar with the deck of the Protector II. It is a little difficult to believe that a race so outwardly simple is capable of such technological achievement, but they have a non-humanoid form too which is perhaps capable of great things.

Otherwise, the plot is pretty standard, and one you will have seen before if you have watched The Three Amigos or A Bugs’ Life. Familiarity is also an issue with other elements of the film: yes, it’s quite funny, but a lot of Star Trek is funny, intentionally or otherwise (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is essentially a comedy).

Also, the science fiction aspects of the film are adequate, but nothing more. Although they look very nice, action sequences involving the Protector are not as exciting as authentic Trek (the ship takes a lot of hits but the consequences seem minimal); aspects such as teleportation and the time-reversal device are used glibly too, with the actors proving rather too good at the job in hand and not particularly fazed by the extraordinary situation they find themselves in.

I haven’t made much mention of the cast, but they are fine in their dual roles. Allen is good as the overbearing star, although he is lumbered with re-learning a sense of pride in being a role-model (the geeky fans he insults at the start of the film end up being vital to the success of the mission). Alan Rickman is entertaining in morose, Frankie Howard-style as the semi-alien Science officer with a ruined Shakespearean career and preposterous catchphrase.

Sigourney Weaver and Tony Shalhoub fill out the Ohura and Scotty roles respectively, whilst Sam Rockwell enjoys his role as Guy, convinced – because his character has no surname – that he will be killed off as the expendable extra. Finally, Daryl Mitchell plays Lt Laredo, the former child actor who pilots the ship. His appearance as the sole black character may be a nod to the tokenism of Star Trek, but nothing is made of this in the script and the character does nothing of much interest.

To sum up, then: although it aims for the stars, Galaxy Quest never reaches the heights it hopes for, falling between the two stools of comedy and Science Fiction. Nevertheless, it’s easy on the eye and brain, always good for a giggle, and a perfectly decent choice if you are after undemanding Friday night fare.

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Team America: World Police

WFTB Score: 10/20

The plot: Brilliant young actor Gary Johnston is recruited to America’s top terrorist-fighting organisation to infiltrate terrorist cells and discover who is really pulling the strings. But can Team America survive the emotional disruption that Gary’s arrival brings? And can Gary resolve his conflicted mind on discovering the identity of the evil-doers’ key American ally?

The brains behind South Park take on World affairs in Team America: World Police in the style you would expect: trying to be as offensive as possible to as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. The difference here is that instead of 2D animation, the story is revealed Thunderbirds-style, the action unfolding through marionettes and models.

Team America live inside Mount Rushmore with a fleet of vehicles at their disposal, and consist of the usual mix: gruff, actor-hating Chris, empathic Sarah, sexy blonde psychologist Lisa and sappy pilot Joe, under the direction of kinky leader Spottswoode. When Gary is brought into the team to use his acting skills, there is plenty of love but not much harmony.

To start with the positives, the puppeteering itself is used to great effect. When used well it goes unnoticed, but during the frequent fight scenes the mess of limbs reminds you of what you are watching. Characters occasionally have trouble walking too, and their childish motion is always funny. Parker revels in the limitations of the form as well as the possibilities, throwing in a sex scene between our hero Gary and Lisa which would never get past the censors with live actors. A later scene where Gary copiously vomits (seemingly) his own body weight in green sick does make you wince as you watch, but it is still funny in a gross-out fashion.

Many of the jokes are pitched at this level and explain why the film overall is not more satisfying to watch. The juvenile humour sits alongside other elements which give the film something of a split personality. Firstly, the film is a would-be parody of big-budget action movies, of the Michael Bay variety in particular (it even steals Armageddon’s ‘Worst bits of The Bible’ line).

Whilst it is quite amusing to see blockbusters portrayed in puppet form, the original movies themselves are so overblown that they are almost impossible to parody – if you don’t find Bay et al’s films a little ridiculous already, you won’t find anything odd about Team America. The same is true of the score; if live action films don’t actually contain songs called America – F**k yeah!, they imply the sentiment so strongly that this film’s emphasis is redundant.

Secondly, Team America tries to be a scurrilous satire, and this too comes in two parts. America’s attitude to and perception of the rest of the world is very bluntly sent up, Team America accidentally blowing up great monuments like the Sphinx and the Eiffel Tower in the defence of freedom, Gary disguising himself as a (literally) towel-headed Arab; at the other extreme, the appeasing nature of liberal Hollywood actors (a glittering roster of names like Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon (‘Matt Damon!’)) is lampooned, showing the Film Actor’s Guild (F.A.G., ha ha) metaphorically in bed with the bad guys, specifically Kim Jong Il in Cartman mode.

Having a go at both ends of the spectrum at the same time reveals that the film ultimately doesn’t have a position, and is content to take the piss out of everything. In fact, the satire doesn’t really sit alongside the juvenile humour: the satire is conveyed with juvenile humour: the spoof of Rent; the rubbish computer called INTELLIGENCE; the ‘FAG’ joke.

The big ‘dicks, pussies and assholes’ speech at the end is meant to be the culmination of Gary’s journey and an apologia for American intervention, but it’s not at all clever and only funny if you’re not bored of the swearing by this time.

And thus the disappointment with Team America: World Police as a whole. It will definitely make you laugh more than once, but asks you to be two audiences at once. You want to be under eighteen to really enjoy its scatology, over eighteen to really get its philosophy. I would certainly recommend South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut over this for a near-the-knuckle comedy that savagely says something about its country of origin.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Benjamin Barker returns to London, his identity changed and hell-bent on dispatching the corrupt judge who falsely deported him to take advantage of his wife, his vengeance fuelled by learning the judge has taken Todd’s own daughter as his ward. He plots his revenge using his skills as an expert barber, and his bloody trade has fringe benefits for the mouldy pie-shop directly beneath his chair.

Despite being an admirer of musicals in both theatrical and cinematic forms, I must confess that Sondheim has always left me cold. For me, he over-complicates, musically and lyrically, for the sake of being complicated. Perhaps you listen to a lot of facile old rubbish, you may say. And you could be right: but I like to respond intuitively to music and Sondheim’s tricky rhythms, over-stuffed lines and gratuitous discords are distractions to doing so.

It is greatly to Burton’s credit, therefore, that Sweeney Todd is still a really enjoyable film. No doubt sacrificing potential audience to be true to his vision (the film has an ‘18’ Certificate in the UK), Burton’s Grand Guignol presentation of the story is literally drenched in blood. It’s not a film for the squeamish, but it is fitting to the tale that you should see the full horror of Todd’s cut-throat business. Though there are many moments of grim humour, in essence this is no laughing matter.

The film has two enormous aspects in its favour. The first is that the director’s imagination is perfectly suited to the material: if pie-shop owner Mrs Lovett is not a Corpse Bride she comes pretty damn close, and Todd is a living ghost, remaining on Earth with the sole purpose of revenge. In costume and set design (the main set, properly, stays close to its stage roots) the feeling of a stinking London town is vividly portrayed. The cinematography is right too, with a washed-out, murky palette, except for a few flashbacks and an amusing fantasy sequence at the beach.

The other delight is the cast. Johnny Depp is superb in the title role, completely switching off his natural charm to play the demented demon barber; we can see throughout that his eyes and his soul are already dead. Helena Bonham Carter’s Mrs Lovett is a needy, cadaverous wretch, and the pairing of Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall as Judge Turpin and his beadle is inspired. Rickman’s lasciviousness is unsettling but necessary as we should feel that he deserves his fate. As the young sailor Anthony, Jamie Campbell Bower acquits himself well in a fairly unexciting role; Sacha Baron Cohen has an entertaining (and surprisingly powerful) cameo; and finally, young Ed Sanders is good as protective, gin-loving Toby.

The downsides? While it’s not fair to criticise the film for any faults in the musical, Sweeney Todd isn’t a film that you leave with a host of tunes on your lips. The soft ballad Johanna apart, it’s difficult to pick out a particularly memorable melody – although the comedy of Worst Pies in London and A Little Priest does help to offset this. Also, the singing, whilst in no respects of Tommy-esque proportions, is of variable quality.

I have no problems with Depp taking off Anthony Newley – it was good enough for David Bowie, after all – but Carter’s voice is a little thin, especially at the higher range. Also, I found Jayne Wisener to be unconvincing as both singer and actress in the role of Johanna, and found myself distracted by her doll-like features (most notably the size of her head) when she was on screen.

I was also very grateful that the main film featured none of the stylised but utterly unconvincing CGI of the opening credits. I had never previously considered how credits affected my perception of the impending film, but after Sweeney Todd’s I feared the worst.

Thankfully, however, my expectations were easily exceeded. Fans of Depp, Burton and musicals should definitely make space on their shelves for Sweeney Todd; and other viewers, so long as they have the constitution for it, should give the demon barber a visit too.

Carry On Doctor

WFTB Score: 11/20

The plot: Hapless Dr Kilmore struggles to maintain his composure, reputation and job in the face of the sneering authoritarianism of Dr Kenneth Tinkle and formidable matron Lavinia. As secret passions boil away in the wards, the majority of the inpatients do their best to recover; but when Kilmore is unjustly removed, they are forced to take direct action.

When the mind over matter techniques of dodgy faith dealer Francis Bigger (Frankie Howerd) can’t stop him landing straight on his coccyx, he earns a stay in the male ward of the local hospital, between committed malingerer and wife-avoider Mr Roper (Sid James) and Mr Barron (Charles Hawtrey), suffering a pregnancy on behalf of his uncomplaining wife. Comings and goings in the ward, especially Mr Biddle’s (Bernard Bresslaw) insistence on visiting female patient Mavis (Dilys Laye), soon send Bigger into a private room, where he mistakenly comes to believe he only has a week to live.

Amongst the staff, meanwhile, pretty Nurse Clarke (Anita Harris) has the hots for popular Dr Kilmore (Jim Dale), and in the bosom of Matron (Hattie Jacques) lies a passion for ruthless senior physician Dr Kenneth Tinkle (Ken Williams). However, the arrival of Sandra May (Barbara Windsor), her chest bursting with gratitude for Tinkle because he previously saved her life, upsets the apple cart. Against hospital rules, she’s caught in his room; so Tinkle and matron hatch a plan to literally make Kilmore the fall guy. Roper and Biddle are outraged by Kilmore’s unfair dismissal, and with a little help from Nurse Clarke they prepare a patients’ mutiny to make Matron and Tinkle pay for their haughty ways.

It may be because the quirks of the National Health Service are fondly mocked by the British; or it may be because TV show Dr Kildare and the Doctor films (directed by Ralph Thomas, Gerald’s brother), complete with portrait of James Robertson Justice, loom large; or it could be because the Carry Ons made hospitals their second home (starting with Nurse, they also made Matron and Again Doctor); but Carry On Doctor feels to me like the archetypal Carry On.

In particular, Kenneth Williams is right at home as the snooty, superior, yet still bungling senior doctor who rubs everyone up the wrong way. Everyone, that is, except the secretly lustful Matron, played beautifully by Jacques. The chemistry between them (see Jacques laughing when they bump noses) provides much-needed underpinning, given the unconvincing business of Babs‘ infatuation with Kenneth, Kilmore’s disgrace and redemption, and the relatively flimsy storylines given to the rest of the cast.

Since much of the ‘action’ of Doctor is by its very nature static (Sid James, recovering from a heart attack, stays in bed most of the time), it’s lucky that the film has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. Firstly, it benefits greatly from a barnstorming performance by Frankie Howerd, his high-pitched incredulity and eye-rolling sarcasm adding a new dimension to the regular Carry On cast (Dandy Nichols, too, has a funny cameo as the garrulous Mrs Roper).

Secondly and more importantly, while Talbot Rothwell’s script may be light on plot, it’s absolutely packed with gags: silly ones, like the fully bandaged man who turns out to be invisible (’Oo, I still don’t like the look of him!’ Tinkle says); saucy ones, like Lavinia throwing herself at Kenneth, the daffodil (an in-joke harking back to Nurse), or Kilmore’s adventures on the roof; or more traditional fare, like the chaotic weddding of Bigger and his deaf companion Chloe (Joan Sims, superb and underused as usual), conducted by an equally mutton chaplain. There’s easily enough genuinely clever material to forgive lazy jokes such as (as happens more than once) looking under a sheet and exclaiming ‘That’s a big one!’

Inevitably, the passage of time means that it’s impossible to look at some aspects of Carry On films in the way their original audience saw them. In particular, the treatment of Babs Windsor’s trainee nurse here is dolly-birdism of the worst kind. She receives the ultimate ‘Phwoooar!” from a leering ambulance driver, takes her clothes off to sunbathe, then promptly disappears from the film.By contrast, Jacques is called a ‘battleship’ and other older ladies are referred to as ‘cows.’ Matron’s rough-house treatment at the hand of the female patients is also more suited to army barracks than a hospital, though this is at least Equal Opportunities humiliation since Tinkle is treated no better (indeed, he’s almost tortured!). It’s not worth getting too hung up on such things, but there is a slight feeling that the film is designed exclusively for working-class men, a feeling you don’t get in superior series entries such as Don’t Lose Your Head or Carry On Up the Khyber.

But the film is what it is: and what it is, for the most part, is funny. Carry On Doctor isn’t the most exciting of the series by a long shot, but its hit-rate of jokes ensures that you simply don’t have time to get bored. Although they don’t all play as full a part as they might, all the gang are here – joyously, the film pre-dates Jack Douglas – and they are all on top form with Rothwell’s material. Carry On Doctor has a few ills of its own, but as long as you’re immune to rank sexism, it’ll cheer you up on a miserable day.

In the Company of Men

WFTB Score: 13/20

The plot: Cynical businessmen Chad and Howard use a six-week work assignment as an excuse to test out their manliness by dating, and then dumping, a vulnerable woman. Deaf typist Christine appears to be a perfect candidate but predictably, complications ensue. As Howard falls in love with Christine and she falls for Chad’s charms, how can the situation resolve itself without a great deal of upset? Or maybe that’s the idea all along…

Those who take offence at the phrase “all men are bastards” are best advised to stay away from In the Company of Men, an uncompromising black comedy from first-time director Neil La Bute. For it not only exposes the male-filled, corporate world as a breeding ground of testosterone-fuelled misogyny, but contains one of the most extreme specimens of chauvinism you are ever likely to see.

His name is Chad (Aaron Eckhart), a suave, self-assured businessman on his way to set up a new office with old schoolfriend and colleague Howard (Matt Malloy). For their own reasons, each is finding work incompatible with successful relationships, Chad having broken up with his partner Suzanne and Howard experiencing trouble with an ex-fiancée. Fearing that women are gaining control over their lives, Chad hits on a plan to make them feel better: find a vulnerable woman, have both himself and Howard date her for the six weeks they’re in town, and then simply drop her like a stone when it’s time to leave.

Somewhat reluctantly Howard agrees to go along with the plan, and they find the perfect target in Christine (Stacy Edwards), a deaf typist whose vocal mannerisms Chad mocks mercilessly, while being a perfect gentleman to her face. In contrast, Howard doesn’t find chatting Suzanne up comes naturally; but when they do date, he finds himself ever more attracted to her and even starts learning sign language to get to know her better. This attention to detail comes at the expense of his performance in the workplace, however; and in any event his wooing is destined to come to nothing as Christine falls for Chad, despite Howard’s efforts to get him out of the way. It also seems as though Chad is really falling in love with Christine, but Howard, spurned and angry, ensures that the truth will out.

The company where both men work is an insanely macho place, and the corporate setting of this nasty variation of Pygmalion works really well. The important people – all male – are virtually clones of each other, all wearing white shirts and patterned ties and constantly denigrating their colleagues. In this arena being the ‘big swinging dick’ is the be-all-and-end-all, and Chad is an alpha-male to an almost psychotic degree (though not quite at American Psycho levels), not afraid to humiliate people wherever and whenever necessary (he revels in an awkward sequence with a black employee).

Aaron Eckhart plays the part perfectly, able to horrify the audience with offensive anti-female jokes one minute and appear perfectly sincere in his wooing of Christine the next. As a hateful and hate-filled character, we really should be wishing him dead; but he retains a demonic, self-assured charm that ensures he remains fascinating, even as he reveals himself – several times – to be the worst kind of bastard.

Opposite him, Malloy’s clunky, needy, inadequate Howard is simultaneously an object of derision and pity, and the scene in which he confesses his and Chad’s scheme to Christine is both devastating and awkward; but both the actors and the script make the unravelling of the relationships strangely compelling. As the unwitting bait in the men’s trap, Stacy Edwards has less to do than the others, but her quiet gestures are effective and her portrayal of a deaf woman (she isn’t) is particularly convincing.

Much of the film put me in mind of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, and while this is generally a compliment to Neil La Bute’s work, it also hints at a few problems. Like the older film, In the Company of Men betrays its roots as originating on the stage in the small number of sets, the static nature of the action and the pervasive talking where a more experienced director might have introduced some more obviously cinematic elements. Also, the division of the film into ‘weeks’ interrupts the flow of the film, again making the film appear like a series of scenes from a theatrical production rather than something designed for the screen. Since Eckhart is so magnetically horrible in the lead role, none of these things really detract from the enjoyment – if that’s the word – of the film; yet it would not be true to say that they go by unnoticed.

I approached In the Company of Men with some trepidation, since a brief description of the film – two businessmen plot to humiliate a handicapped woman – sounds completely sick. However, even if there aren’t many real Chads in the world, I have no doubt that there are some; and the dedicated, raw performances of Eckhart, Malloy and Edwards, combined with La Bute’s wicked words, make the film a gripping if awfully uncomfortable watch.

Gran Torino

WFTB Score: 18/20

The plot: Grizzled widower and Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski despairs of his spoilt family and mistrusts his neighbours, members of the Hmong community that has come to dominate the area where he now lives with only his dog Daisy for company. When shy youngster Thao is goaded by a gang into trying to steal Walt’s precious Gran Torino, the sick old man nearly kills him; but as Thao pays penance Walt begins to take the young man and his sister Sue under his wing. Little do they know that the relationship will have devastating consequences for them all.

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a wretched old man, an inconvenience to the money-minded family who congregate for his wife’s funeral and a thorn in the side of the young Catholic priest (Christopher Carley) who tries to look out for him, despite the insults he constantly receives for his troubles. A war vet and ex-Ford worker, Walt is pre-disposed to dislike his neighbours, the Hmong who were repatriated after the Vietnam War (they supported the losing side); and when impressionable young man Thao (Bee Vang) is forced by his cousin’s gang to try to steal Walt’s immaculate 1972 Gran Torino, Walt reacts with his customary fury and racist outbursts.

However, Walt saves Thao from being hauled off by the gang and soon after saves his sister Sue (Ahney Her) from a sticky situation, making him a local hero; Walt is showered with food (to which he is more than partial) and gets to know both Sue and Thao, who is made to work for Walt and is later given lessons in life by the relentlessly practical curmudgeon. Walt, however, does not have much life left and when Thao’s problems with the gang escalate, he takes it upon himself to find a solution.

Eastwood has stated that this is his last appearance in front of the camera; if so, it is a fine send-off for one of cinema’s greats. Essentially an exercise in old age vigilantism, Gran Torino provides an uncomfortable but incredibly gripping story as Thao and Sue’s lives become ever more threatened by their hateful cousin’s gang and Walt fights to protect them. More than that, Eastwood’s Walt is a superb and complex character study, a man troubled by the violence of war yet not afraid to use his muscle, hateful on many levels, disappointed in his children and snotty grandkids, yet regretful that he didn’t get to know his sons better.

Importantly, even as he comes to know and even like his next door neighbours, his ingrained racism barely softens: only the frequent reminders of impending death make him reappraise his life with the help of the callow priest. Throughout, the gleaming Gran Torino lurks in the background as a symbol of misplaced effort and love, highlighting Eastwood’s contribution as director. He never makes himself likeable, but by filming himself unflinchingly (there is a brilliant shot of Walt smoking in the dark, his blood pouring down his hands) he makes sure we feel everything Walt feels.

Alongside such a towering performance, Bee Vang and Ahney Her – non-professional actors – do admirably in their roles, Her in particular coming across as self-assured and (importantly) sympathetic in a role which is initially burdened with giving details about the Hmong but which later takes a shocking turn. Though other parts are necessarily limited, Brian Haley is excellent as Walt’s son Mitch, failing to connect with the old man and harassed by the wife into proposing retirement villages. John Carroll Lynch is also very good as the foul-mouthed barber who gives Walt as good as he gets, and who helps to school Thao in the art of being a man. Nick Schenk’s screenplay is poignant, funny and hard, and its morals are simple and direct; perhaps more so than in real life, but the impact of every scene is immediate and raw.

Gran Torino’s simplicity and refusal to become sentimental (a trait that afflicted Million Dollar Baby) is generally a blessing, but also leads to my only criticism of the film. At the very end, the ultimate destination of Walt’s prized car is easily guessed at, and Thao’s troubles are wrapped up rather too neatly to be entirely credible; but this is a small quibble, and one which only very slightly reduced my enjoyment of the film (since the build-up towards the climax is so expertly handled, I thought the climax itself might be…cleverer). If I’m being vague, it’s for a very good reason: even if it’s not quite perfect, Gran Turismo is a film that should be seen and appreciated without too much forewarning. It’s an uncomfortable watch, occasionally, but for every frame that Clint Eastwood is on screen, you won’t be able to take your eyes off him.

Hot Shots! Part Deux

WFTB Score: 8/20

The plot: When a mission to rescue the people sent to rescue American hostages in Iraq goes wrong, there’s only one man to rescue them: Topper Harley. Inconveniently, Topper doesn’t want to know, but he’s brought round by the CIA and signs on for the mission, reuniting with his lost love Ramada in the process. However, there are plenty of bodies between him and the prison where the hostages are held captive.

It’s been two years since Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen) delivered a bomb onto the lap of Saddam Hussein (Jerry Haleva) in Hot Shots! But things haven’t worked out how he hoped: his Latin love Ramada (Valeria Golino) jilted him at the train station, sending him into self-imposed exile at an ashram in Thailand, living with monks and boxing for money. Colonel Walters (Richard Crenna) and CIA operative Michelle Huddlestone (Brenda Bakke) fail to talk him round, but when word reaches him that Walters has been captured on a rescue mission, Michelle’s words, looks and – ahem – bedroom prowess persuade him to take part in the mission to rescue him.

Topper’s contact in the field just happens to be Ramada, harbouring the pain of secretly being married to one of the hostages, an Englishman called Dexter (Rowan Atkinson); but as Ramada, Topper and his band of inept brothers fight their bloody way towards the prison camp, the former lovers struggle to hold back their feelings. Back home, President ‘Tug’ Benson (Lloyd Bridges) depends on the mission succeeding to shore up his faltering re-election campaign, and decides that the only way to secure success is to take direct action.

Moving on from Hot Shots!’ parody of Top Gun, director Abrahams and co-writer Pat Proft here use America’s ongoing feud with Iraq to fashion a parody of ‘Nam films such as the Rambo trilogy, The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now. Part Deux is largely successful at lampooning the thoughtless violence of Rambo and the earnestness of the other films – the segment on the river is great fun and includes a lovely Martin Sheen cameo. Sheen Jr, his own life now something of a parodic tragi-comedy, both looks the part and is admirably straight-laced; he’s ably supported by Golino, looking as fine as ever, even in a moustache (and her Gabriella Sabatini joke is amongst the film’s best).

Elsewhere, things are much more hit-and-miss: some of the jokes, like the ’Geronimo!’ gag, are a wonderful surprise, whereas others are terrible – ‘I see you’re no stranger to pain’ is paid off with ‘I‘ve been married – twice’. Bridges doesn’t quite have the same impact as President as he did as Admiral, and the members of Topper’s team are less than luminary (Ryan Stiles’ goofy turn is as welcome as – well, Goofy); but they are redeemed somewhat by Rowan Atkinson’s marvellously sulky turn. Brenda Bakke, meanwhile, makes for a decent Sharon Stone-alike in the film’s Basic Instinct spoof, but eventually suffers the indignity of being the movie’s turncoat, ill-used as she and Golino fall out and randomly embark on an American Gladiators face-off. More than ever, you get the idea that Abrahams and Proft added bits and added bits to their script, until the answer to the question ’So…this feature length yet?’ was ‘I guess!’

Then there’s the thorny issue of killing people in comedy movies. The ‘bloodiest movie ever’ tag is obviously a silly joke, but history has leant this film a slightly queasy political element. If you are going to make jokes about it, the cartoonish way in which hundreds of Iraqis are dispatched is probably the best way to go about it; but given the relative casualties of Desert Storm (and I urge you to find and listen to Bill Hicks’ take on the “war”), it just makes me uncomfortable that dead Iraqi soldiers are considered fodder for body count comedy.

And given the ridiculous revenge mission that we now know/always knew Operation Iraqi Freedom was for George W. Bush, the flippant ridicule of Saddam Hussein rings a bit hollow (never mind the human/economic cost, they got their man in the end). I accept that this might be pretty heavy criticism for a damn silly spoof, but you can’t have Topper saying ’You sold out the greatest country in the world’ with a straight face and still be surprised that some countries think America is a nation of stupid, arrogant bullies. Anyway, enough with the politicking – it’s unfair to judge the film now for its stance at the time, and Abrahams and Proft certainly weren’t alone in feeling the despot was ripe for ridicule.

Finally, while you wouldn’t call Hot Shots! Part Deux sloppy, it doesn’t create locations half as effectively as its predecessor, so you really have no sense of enemy territory as a place (are there really jungles in Iraq?) Another niggly comment, maybe, but it’s one that wouldn’t have arisen had the comedy been more diverting and less reliant on pop-culture references for giggles. Overall, Part Deux is an entirely adequate ninety-minute diversion; but there’s nothing to suggest that there would be much merit in a part trois.