Directed by Rick Friedberg. Starring Leslie Nielsen, Nicollette Sheridan, Charles Durning, Marcia Gay Harden, Barry Bostwick, Andy Griffith. (1996, PG-13, 81 min.)
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., May 31, 1996
Filled to the bursting point with witless, sub-Mad magazine movie parodies, pointless cameos by a seemingly endless parade of has-beens, and once-hysterical, now stale jokes lifted straight from Airplane! and the original Naked Gun, Spy Hard is a truly desperate comedy. It serves as yet another reminder that only the Zucker/Abrams/Zucker triumvirate (ZAZ -- the folks responsible for the aforementioned Airplane! and Naked Gun, as well as the two Hot Shots! movies) should be allowed to make these types of spoofs, since they seem to be the only ones who can get them right. Leslie Nielsen, who (I think it's safe to say) reached his comic zenith long ago when he was still working with the ZAZ crew, stars here as secret agent WD-40, better known as Dick Steel -- an invincible superspy who comes out of his self-imposed retirement to do battle with a crazed, armless arch-nemesis from his past, General Rancor, played with barely disguised “give me my damned paycheck!” disinterest by Andy Griffith, who, quite frankly, displays far more enthusiasm in those rather unflattering Shoney's commercials on television. In direct contrast to Griffith's “why-bother” performance is Nielsen's typically dimwitted charisma and over-the-top physical antics, which are unfortunately wasted on a spectacularly inept and unimaginative screenplay that first-timer Rick Friedberg has directed with absolutely zero flair. In supporting roles, Barry Bostwick and Marcia Gay Harden (Remember her in Miller's Crossing? Doesn't she deserve better than this?) also give 100 percent, and, okay, it's somewhat amusing to see “Weird Al” Yankovic's head exploding over the opening credits, but these relatively minor pluses cannot begin to compensate for the remainder of the picture. And, despite the obvious expectations raised by its title, Spy Hard never even gets around to poking fun at the whole “lone everyman versus terrorists while trapped in a claustrophobic setting” genre spawned by Die Hard -- a formula that seems far riper for ribbing than the espionage film, which, just recently and more effectively, was spoofed by Hong Kong comedian Stephen Chaiu Sing-chi in his outrageous 1994 farce From Beijing With Love.