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Video reviews: ''Hot Shots 2,'' ''Men In Tights''

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Video reviews: ”Hot Shots 2,” ”Men In Tights”

Let’s face it: Movie comedy is in a terrible rut right now. The top films of the past year were mostly thrill machines and dramas, and what few comedies there were pummeled a herd of long-dead horses. (Would you believe Coneheads? The Beverly Hillbillies? Few did.) The year’s most notable yukfest was Mrs. DoubtfireTootsie with less balls. The moderate hit Cool Runnings was a throwback to Disney programmers from the ’60s like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. A minefield of dreary sequels — Wayne and Garth excepted — and mindless remakes like Home Alone-clone Dennis the Menace left a mirthless dark cloud hanging over multiplexes everywhere. Even reliables like director Jim Abrahams (an alumnus of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker Airplane! crew), with Hot Shots! Part Deux, and that old mad vulgarian Mel Brooks, with Robin Hood: Men in Tights, couldn’t get it together. Suddenly it feels like movies don’t know how to be funny anymore.

Oddly enough, the original 1991 Hot Shots! was a throwback too — but for a reason. Abrahams’ flyboy farce wasn’t merely a parody of the mid-’80s’ Top Gun, it was a lethally silly kiss-off to Reagan-era MTV jingoism in general: the send-up of an era. The cultural timing couldn’t have been better, but that window of satiric opportunity is long gone, and there are different targets to deflate now. So while Hot Shots! Part Deux likewise reaches back for its primary target — 1985’s Rambo First Blood Part II — there’s no impetus behind the satire. The plot sends Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen) into Iraq to rescue beleaguered MIA’s (including Rambo‘s own Richard Crenna), but making fun of Saddam Hussein is awfully easy at this remove, and Abrahams certainly isn’t planning to address the Gulf War on any serious level.

So, for the first time in a ZAZ-style comedy, the wackiness feels desperate, pointless, pushy. Gags touch on The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and Star Wars: It’s as if you’ve picked up a yellowed Mad magazine a box in the garage. Sheen, Valeria Golino, and Lloyd Bridges drolly reprise their roles from the original Shots! (as the President, Bridges gets to reprise George Bush’s state-dinner gaffe to maximum upchucky effect), but that movie’s secret weapon — the dementedly crisp Cary Elwes — is, unfortunately, elsewhere.

He’s the lead in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and it doesn’t do his career a damn bit of good. Hollywood has never quite known what to do with this handsome, gifted actor — too sly for straight leads, too blandly blond for villains, he keeps getting cast as the smart farceur in dumb comedies. Here, as Robin of Loxley, Elwes gaily spoofs both Kevin Costner and Errol Flynn, but the movie lets him down throughout. He’s a tightrope walker who’s been stranded on the ground.

Essentially, Men in Tights echoes cowriter-director Brooks’ past triumphs (in particular, his 1975 Sherwood Forest sitcom, When Things Were Rotten) with some ZAZ-ish pop references and Monty Python medieval splatter thrown in for safety. Neuro-comedian Richard Lewis is on hand as evil Prince John (he’s not funny, though), and Roger Rees (he’s not funny either) apes Alan Rickman’s hammy turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham from Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It’s left up to Brooks himself to get the biggest laughs as Rabbi Tuckman, a borscht-belt goof on Friar Tuck and the lone example of the go-for-broke crassness that enlivened Blazing Saddles (to which this movie makes the mistake of alluding at one point). That film now seems like a quaintly rude classic from a bygone era. Men in Tights — like Hot Shots! Part Deux — feels depressingly like it could have been made by anybody.

Hot Shots! Part Deux: C-; Robin Hood: Men in Tights: D

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