STUDIO: Paramount
$13.49 (All)

Coming to America: R


Top Secret!:

The Naked Gun:
Still Smokin': Unrated
Coming to America: 116 minutes

95 minutes

Top Secret!:
90 minutes

The Naked Gun:
84 minutes

Still Smokin':
91 minutes

The Naked Gun:
Commentary by David Zucker, producer Robert Weiss and host Peter Tilden
Top Secret!:
Commentary by Jim Abrahams, Jerry and David Zucker, producers Jon Davison and Hunt Lowry
     and moderator Fred Rubin
Alternate scenes

The Pitch

20 to 30-year-old movies in shiny new packaging!

To say that Gay was in heaven is an understatement…

The Humans

Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, John Amos, James Earl Jones, Madge Sinclair, Shari Headley, Eriq La Salle, Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson, Jennifer Beals, Michael Nouri, Val Kilmer, Lucy Gutteridge, Peter Cushing, Omar Sharif, Michael Gough, Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong.

The Nutshells

Coming To America: Eddie Murphy plays Akeem, a rich African prince (as well as an old Jewish barber patron, and the barber and Randy Watson) who visits New York and masquerades as a poor immigrant in order to find his future bride. 

This may or may not be Jennifer Beals.  Whichever is fine by me here…

Flashdance: Jennifer Beals is Alex, a streetwise, steeltown girl who works as a welder by day and an exotic dancer by night who dreams of going to a prestigious dance school to become a ballerina.  De facto sequels include every friggin’ “gotta dance” movie since.

Top Secret!: Val Kilmer is wacky American Pop singer, Nick Rivers, who goes to East Germany to perform at a cultural festival and ends up getting involved with a resistance movement and helping a young hottie (Gutteridge) rescue her father, a brilliant scientist being held by the Germans.

No one was more surprised than Nielsen to find an old unused prop from Dr. Kildare

The Naked Gun: Leslie Nielsen is Det. Frank Drebin of Police Squad, the inept but dedicated cop who stumbles his way through the effort to prevent Queen Elizabeth II from being assassinated by Vincent Ludwig (Ricardo Montalban), a rich and corrupt businessman.  Along the way he falls for Ludwig’s assistant, Jane Spencer (Priscilla Presley), but isn’t sure how deeply she’s involved.

Still Smokin': Cheech and Chong play themselves in a semi-concert film where they go to Amsterdam for a film festival devoted to Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton.  When Burt and Dolly don’t show, Cheech and Chong agree to help out the promoter by doing a live concert, featuring many of their famous skits along the way.  Some marijuana is reportedly seen.

The Lowdowns

All of us decrepit thirtysomethings remember these films because these were what we spent our hard-earned allowances on in our formative years, or caught on those wondrous new inventions: HBO or VCR tapes.  These are five of the latest re-dips by Paramount in shabby chic new packaging with nothing new offered in content or extra features.  Basically they print up some old discs, slap some new labels on them and dump them in the new boxes.  As long as you know that going in, then it’s not a big deal because stuff is repackaged all the time.  But if you’re thinking brand new offerings with brand new stuff, think again.  In terms of the movies themselves, these are five notable titles selected by Paramount to repackage in this “80s” branding, featuring two of the better comedies by Zucker / Abrahams / Zucker, one of Cheech and Chong’s films from their heyday, the template for the “kid from the wrong side of the tracks who has to dance” film, and one of Eddie Murphy’s best movies not only from the ’80s, but in his career period.

“Wait, what do you mean you want HALF…?”

In Coming to America, Murphy created one of his more likable characters and situations in Akeem, who looks to eschew his country’s (and his father’s) tradition of arranged marriages in order to find a bride that loves him for who he is rather than his position.  He also started a trend that he unfortunately has run into the ground by now of portraying multiple characters in the same film.  But in CTA it was fresh as he winningly played four characters, including Clarence the barber, Saul, the old Jewish barber shop patron and Randy Watson of Sexual Chocolate.  His running buddy Arsenio got in on the act by also playing four characters, including Morris, the other barber shop patron and Reverend Brown.

Coming To America was when Murphy was still at the peak of his appeal, and he re-teamed with his Trading Places director John Landis for another winner, well before the working relationship went into the crapper with Beverly Hills Cop III.  Notable aspects of the film were Murphy’s interaction with Arsenio as his friend Semmi, Soul Glo, Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate, the barber shop scenes, and Murphy playing the naive African fish out of water in the Big Apple.  This was essentially Murphy’s last movie of his prime period where he was still hitting on all cylinders before a downer period until The Nutty Professor eight years later.  The film still holds up as one of his best comedies.

Dateline: 1983, Jacko takes this picture to his plastic surgeon and the rest you know

What doesn’t necessarily hold up so well, however, is Still Smokin‘.  Cheech and Chong’s skitfest loosely wrapped around a trip to Amsterdam plot that plods along.  It actually put me to sleep in places and considering that their films of the late ’70s and early ’80s were probably aimed at audiences stoned out of their minds, its a wonder that those audiences would be able to remain conscious in the slower parts of this movie.  I guess they probably took some blow to stay awake.  That’s not to say that there aren’t funny bits to this movie.  Some of the skits are entertaining and showcase that Cheech and Chong were versatile comedic performers, able to assume a variety of characters in weird situations.  Some of the better skits in the movie were Queer Wars, Championship Wrestling and Dopeathon ’82.  But stuff like Blind Melon Chitlin’, and E.T. Eddie Torres, The Extra Testicle were a bit tougher to get through.

Thankfully, Oliver Stone cut out the part where Morrison dabbled in the big band sound.

A movie that’s not quite such a chore but nonetheless still one of the more dated offerings in this set is Flashdance.  The movie is immutably set in early 1980s culture, but that’s sort of the deal with these movies that implore a big soundtrack of a certain time and is heavy in the popular culture.  Flashdance is more of a snapshot of popular culture and music than any kind of timeless offering.  What is does have going for it (relatively speaking) though is that it pretty much set the standard for a fairly new type of movie: the “gotta dance” or “gotta sing” or “gotta do something artistic” young teen angst flick that’s still going strong today.  Even more recent movies like Center Stage, Save The Last Dance, Step Up, Coyote Ugly, et al owe their existence to this movie almost certainly.  Flashdance was also light years more appealing than its contemporaries Breakin’, Krush Groove and the like as it featured a better story and better performances. 

“Ed, I want you to watch Nordberg carefully.”
“Why, Frank?”
“At dinner last night he was looking at Jane and the waiter funny as he was cutting his steak up…”

What Flashdance also has going for it is Jennifer Beals.  I don’t care how much dancing she really did in the movie, she’s still sexier and more watchable than just about any of the characters in movies of this type that followed her.  Flashdance also is nowhere near as quaint as Footloose, which came out just a year later.  Now yes, it does have the ’80s pop culture taint all over it, but I can still get through this film much more readily than the others of the same period.

The last two movies in this set, Top Secret! and The Naked Gun are Zuckers/  Abrahams classics that feature their signature brand of referential / sight gag / spoof and situational humor.  Top Secret! is the more odd of the two, as it mixes elements of WWII-era, Cold War-era and Elvis Presley films, and features a quite young Val Kilmer in his first film.  But it still has the Zuckers / Abrahams signature all over it, which include odd characters, the skewering of eras and institutions and take-offs of popular films.  It also manages to work in musical performances and integrate them seamlessly into the goings-on.  Bits like Skeet Surfin’, the filmed backwards book store scene and the underwater bar fight still hold up well.  Top Secret! is probably the least of the Zuckers / Abrahams trio of comedies including Naked Gun and Airplane!; it’s also a little slow at times, but it still has some very funny scenarios and comedy bits that still play well.

The other film is The Naked Gun, which is the better of the two, and is still just funny twenty years later.  Frank Drebin is probably Nielsen’s signature role and his bumbling through the movie never gets old (that would be reserved for films like Repossessed, Dracula: Dead and Loving It and Mr. Magoo).  The surprising comedic chemistry of the players, whom you wouldn’t immediately think of in that realm, including Priscilla Presley, tough guy George Kennedy as Ed Hocken and Ricardo Montalban as East German man-loving, evil corporate tycoon, Vincent Ludwig, work very well.  The same holds for O.J. Simpson as Nordberg, who just seems a world away from his reality.  You look back at him here ad you think, “This is the same guy?  Really?  Amazing.” 

The Naked Gun pretty much had it all, fun characters, outrageous spoof humor and the sight gags.  Bits like Drebin’s two disastrous visits to Ludwig’s office, the baseball game third act, “Nice beaver,” “My father went the same way,” “Getting your nuts bitten off by a Laplander,” and the like still are fun and funny to watch.  And Nielsen’s deadpan delivery during the entire movie is still classic.  The Naked Gun’s not quite Airplane!, but it’s not that far behind and is still one of my favorite comedies.

Hey Eddie, I was thinking that that’s a good look for this New York Vampire movie I have in mind…”

So if you don’t have any of these movies and are feeling nostalgic, you might be inclined to pick some of them up.  Just don’t expect anything you probably haven’t seen before.

The Packages

As mentioned, these all have the snazzy ’80s theme packaging, which is just some eon colors over the original cover art.  If there’s been any remastering, you can’t tell it as the films still show their age.  Sound is also generally fine in Dolby 5.1 for all, though nothing special.  Only two of the five movies have special features: Naked Gun with a group commentary by
David Zucker, producer Robert Weiss and host Peter Tilden; and Top Secret! with commentary by Jim Abrahams, Jerry and David Zucker, producers Jon Davison and Hunt Lowry and moderator Fred Rubin, as well as alternate scenes and storyboards.  I guess the Zuckers and Abrahams gave more of a damn than everybody else.

Coming To America:  7.7 out of 10
Flashdance: 6.0 out of 10
Top Secret!:  7.0 out of 10
The Naked Gun: 8.3 out of 10
Still Smokin': 5.2 out of 10