Anyone under the impression that Airplane! and the Naked Gun films are nothing more than jam-packed collections of bad puns, schlock-celebrity cameos, and shamelessly vulgar slapstick should take a look at National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1. A raucous parody of bodies-through-the-plate-glass-window action flicks, the movie has been made in a slavish but pedestrian imitation of the Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker house style. It’s got the relentless, five-gags- a-minute pace. It’s got a couple of deadpan stars (Emilio Estevez and Samuel L. Jackson) who go through the motions of a Hollywood plot while stepping outside the frame to comment on the action. It’s got a famously terrible actor (William Shatner, as the villain) devising new ways to mug on camera and a famous sex bomb (swimsuit model Kathy Ireland) gamely sending up her bimbo status.
What the film doesn’t have is a trace of the aggressively referential, out-of-left-field nuttiness that has made ZAZ the media-age inheritors of Marx Brothers surrealism. ZAZ uncover the cliches you didn’t even know were there; the makers of Loaded Weapon set up overly familiar clichés — e.g., the fact that action-film heroes are always crack shots — and toss a few spitballs their way. At one point, Estevez gazes lovingly at a framed portrait and sighs, ”I miss you, Claire!” Then we see what he’s looking at: a photograph of his pet dog. That gag pretty much sums up what’s wrong with Loaded Weapon 1. The movie works so hard to be stupid and zany that it rarely approaches true outrageousness.
One of the canniest choices ZAZ have made is to parody earnest, fuddy-duddy genres (disaster flicks, ’60s cop shows). That way, their humor always seems wickedly incongruous — a liberating blast of wise-guy cheekiness. But the Lethal Weapon films, with their hyperbolic explosiveness, lurid repartee, and quasi-loco Mel Gibson hero, are already winking at the audience. (Last year’s spoofy, ragtag Lethal Weapon 3 practically turned its own slovenliness into a running gag.) The only way to make light of them is to exaggerate the cartoon funkiness that’s already at the center of their appeal. It’s no wonder this Weapon ends up shooting blanks. C