Quick, what do the following scenes have in common? Arnold Schwarzenegger riding a horse through a hotel lobby in True Lies; Whoopi Goldberg leading a chorus of nuns in an R&B number in Sister Act; the ”Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” bicycle ride in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; the John Travolta-Uma Thurman dance number in Pulp Fiction; Jim Carrey’s eyes popping in The Mask; James Bond flirting with Moneypenny. Answer: All these scenes were wittier, sassier, funnier in their original form than they are being ”parodied” in Spy Hard, a grab-bag spoof that takes the flaky MAD-magazine-meets-the Information Age style first popularized by Airplane! 16 years ago to a listlessly uninventive new low. The creators of that style, Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker, made sport of the schlock-movie cliches you didn’t even know were there; their imitators just pound you with cliches.
Spy Hard is a loose send-up of the Bond series and other overly expensive action flicks, but after Hot Shots! Part Deux and National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1 who needs another action parody? These movies offer the depressing spectacle of ”satirical” mayhem, which, too often, is indistinguishable from the real thing. What the jokers behind the camera fail to understand any better than Bob Dole does is that action movies already are comedies; audiences aren’t recoiling from the violence and sadism — they’re cheering it, with a giggle. I’m happy to report, though, that even a dud like Spy Hard can’t completely douse the stumbling Zen charm of Leslie Nielsen, whose genius is that he never quite sheds the illusion that he isn’t in on the joke. He just keeps going, like the Energizer Bunny of twinkly self-ridicule. C-