Maybe the passing of time had an effect on me but I'm not sure I would praise "Hot Shots!" like my 16-year old counterpart did when he first saw it. This is not the first time my enthusiasm fades over the years, I had the same reaction with "Spaceballs" recently
but I still enjoyed "Top Secret!" and "The Naked Gun". So, I feel quite fair and if I list the ten reasons why I didn't enjoy "Hot Shots!".
1- Charlie Sheen can't carry a whole movie, let alone a comedy, there is just something blank and 'soulless' (I stole that line from Homer Simpson) in this actor's eyes that having a whole film depending on it isn't the biggest favor you're doing it. A Leslie Nielsen, he's not, but even when compared to Val Kilmer, Todd Hayes or Bill Pullman, he fails to equal them as the straight-guy-but-not-too-much-so-he-can-be-funny. He even managed to ruin the "Nine Weeks and Half" moment. To his defense, he's not helped by the rest of the cast that looks as bored as he is, except for Lloyd Bridges.
2- And they even managed to "overuse" Lloyd Bridges and his war wounds jokes.
3- Now that I think about it, Cary Elwes might have been an interesting Topper Harley, he proved his ability for comedy in "The Princess Bride".
4- The film has the same problem than "Spaceballs" actually, it explores a type of material that is already a matter of not to be taken seriously, "Top Gun" was already an unintentionally funny movie so trying to provoke intentional laughs with elements that make fun of things that are funny without trying is like ordering sushi just because you need rice. The purpose of a parody movie is to work on unpredictability, to provide a twist on the usual tropes, that's why "Naked Gun" was good, it didn't target a specific movie, it was about a genre. But "Hot Shots!" is so busy parodying all the "Top Gun" and US. Navy movies it was unchained to a limiting premise.
5- It is badly edited. And I don't care if a parody, it's still a movie, and some shots were rather cheap looking. The part where Valeria Golino makes a few acrobatic moves before landing on the horse shows such an obvious cut. Why should that be intentional? It's funnier if it feels like she did that stunt.
Halfway through this review, I feel the need to mention that some parts were still hilarious, like the "Dances With Wolves" helium moment, the running-gag involving the Chihuahua, and the whole set-up before the obligatory death of one of the partners. In fact, the whole "Deadmeat" part has that energy and spice it lacked through the film. The "Only You" part was cute but nothing more. Now, to the list.
6- The plot is unclear and unfocused. I know that a plot shouldn't matter in this specific brand of humor but only in the case where we're so carried away by the laughs that the plot is pointless. "Hot Shots!" is structured around the trauma of Topper, some secret mission in Iraq, and another scheme lead by the Kevin Dunn's character, which is rather under-cooked.
7- Too many slow moments and too many jokes falling flat, by that I mean that they mostly feel like smirk worthy filler. The jokes treating jet planes like cars were already retreads of some hilarious gags from "Airplane!", a soldier sounding the bugle and being instantly trampled (ha-ha), the female pilot telling Topper he's a great guy, "so you are" (how, original) and "the drink is on the house" followed by masses of people invading the place, coming out of nowhere. Tex Avery did a better job by making everyone drink on the roof. Rather warm humor for a film called "Hot Shots!".
8- The other ZAZ film of the same year, the sequel of "The Naked Gun" was much funnier so they still got it after all.
9- In the 90's, parody wasn't exactly the it thing and movies like "Wayne's World" have proved that it takes more than mocking a previously viewed material to garner people's laughs, so, yes, there is something old-fashioned in "Hot Shots!", something that was fresh in the 80's but stopped to be at the 90's, it's just slightly better than the Leslie Nielsen flops of the late 90's, but it was announcing that disastrous trend.
10- Finally, the most embarrassing moment, the most cringe-worthy, is the portrayal of Arabs. Yeah, you wouldn't care because you're part of the 'winning team', but in today's context, this has aged badly and dangerously. I don't mean Arabs being the bad guys, Germans aren't exactly boy scouts in "Die Hard", but they're marginalized group enough not to be both mocked and demonized. Having these pilots named "Hummus", "Baklava" and speaking gibberish like Couscous, Chich Kebab and having the guts to mix it with "Allah Akbar" made me wonder if the ZAZ weren't a bit anti-Arabs after all. I don't know, just thinking of the "Naked Gun" opening scene deepened that certitude.
Laughs are supposed to be cathartic, if the film mocks the patriotic undertones of some Navy movies, it mocks the 'bad guys' with so much more contempt and offensiveness that you start taking it seriously after all. I know Saddam was the bad guy, I know the film was probably released at the midst of the Gulf War, and the "dream became reality" a few years after, look at what's became of Iraq now that the Public Enemy n°1 is gone.
I want a parody or a comedy to make me chill, not to make me realize how one-sided and twisted the world is. The film ends with a song I love: "Dream Love", well, I have a dream when that never-ending cycle with Arabs as Hollywood or media bad guys will come to an end.