Spy Hard

on May 24, 1996 by Wade Major
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   In spite of what should be a foolproof premise, the latest in Leslie Nielsen's seemingly endless spate of "Airplane"-esque comedies ranks sadly among the weakest. A would-be spy movie/action film parody, "Spy Hard" suffers primarily from an identity crisis, torn between the satirical potential of its subject matter on the one hand, and a compulsion to parrot the style and substance of Nielsen's earlier work with the ZAZ team (Jim Abrahams and brothers Jerry and David Zucker) on the other. The result is a film that does justice to neither, scoring only a handful of genuine laughs during its scant 78 minutes.
   James Bond films are what's primarily being skewered here with Nielsen's Agent WD-40, Dick Steele, called back from retirement to defeat the evil General Rancor (Andy Griffith), a world-domination nut who's been hellbent on revenge since losing both arms during his last run-in with Steele some 15 years earlier. As per usual, the remainder of the plot serves only as a springboard from which to launch a series of comedic set pieces, the majority of which usually end prematurely without a significant comic payoff. Elsewhere, old jokes from "Airplane" and "The Naked Gun" are shamelessly resurrected with decidedly unfunny results. Brief jabs at films such as "True Lies," "Speed" and "Jurassic Park" fall flat, while others targeted at "Home Alone," "Pulp Fiction" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" fare only marginally better.
   First-time feature director Rick Friedberg, the veteran music video and commercial director responsible for Nielsen's popular Dollar Rent-A-Car spots and golf videos, would seem a logical choice for the material, yet he seems ill-at-ease here, encumbered by the overly derivative, gag-thin script originally co-written by Friedberg's son Jason.
   Fortunately, none of this seems to dampen Nielsen (who also co-executive produces), who manages to maintain his popular deadpan persona throughout, rising above the pedestrian material often enough so as to not make the film entirely unbearable. Camp contributions from Griffith and from Barry Bostwick (sporting a truly hilarious Bostonian accent), a host of mildly amusing cameos and a scantily clad Nicollette Sheridan help add to the damage control.
   The film's one major standout, amazingly, is the James Bond-style opening credit sequence and the title song, brilliantly written, conceived and executed by "Weird" Al Yankovic. Starring Leslie Nielsen, Nicollette Sheridan and Charles Durning. Directed by Rick Friedberg. Written by Rick Friedberg & Dick Chudnow and Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer. Produced by Rick Friedberg, Doug Draizin and Jeffrey Konvitz. A Buena Vista release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for crude humor and sexual innuendo. Running time: 78 min
Tags: Starring Leslie Nielsen, Nicollette Sheridan and Charles Durning. Directed by Rick Friedberg. Written by Rick Friedberg & Dick Chudnow and Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer, Produced by Rick Friedberg, Doug Draizin, Jeffrey Konvitz, Buena Vista, Comedy
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