'Spy Hard' is no 'Airplane' Review: Spy-thriller spoof has Leslie Nielsen, but it lacks the rapid-fire gags we have come to expect.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Go figure. "Spy Hard" laboriously parodies at least a dozen thrillers and even finds room to accommodate Michael Jackson's flaming hair -- which was on an ad shoot, for crying out loud -- but the one movie it passes on is "Die Hard," the basis of its title. Huh? Are there any grown-ups left in Hollywood?

The film is itself more a parody of a parody than a parody, if you can follow my Talmudic thinking: It's a lamer, duller version of the famous "Airplane" and "Naked Gun" movies, those brilliant spoof-dense mockeries of popular movie genres. But those films, although they shared snow-capped Leslie Nielsen as goofmeister with "Spy Hard," were directed jointly by Jim Abrahams, and David and Jerry Zucker. Now those guys were funny.

Alas, "Spy Hard" is directed by Rick Friedberg, and he's not nearly as funny. He's not even as funny as Mel Brooks has become but at least Mel was once funny. Was this poor guy ever funny?

The result is 80 brief minutes of movie skits assembled in an order that sort of resembles a plot. Nielsen plays retired secret agent Dick Steele, on the track of evil Dr. Rancor (Andy Griffith) whose arms he had blown off years ago. As ever, Nielsen is stalwart, rigid, literal, charmingly charmless and the appropriate icon about which to build such an enterprise.

It's a shame that Friedberg and his three writers weren't able to come up with enough material. The ZAZ boys discovered they could cram the screen with gags, sometimes two or three simultaneously, and the result was a concussive tapestry of hilarity. They put you into gagging oxygen debt, laughing till you begged for mercy. But there's too much time between the gags in "Spy Hard"; in fact they seem to happen one at a time. And, they're far from inspired.

You want laughs? Hey, how about this one? This one'll crack you up! Instead of calling secret agent man 007, let's call him WD-40! Excuse me, it was so funny I forgot to laugh!

Or how about Andy Griffith shouting "Arm me!" So two guys slap arms on him. Ho ho ho!

Well, on and on it goes, one joke at a time.

Co-star Charles Durning has a neat gag or two as the Director (of "the Company," not the movie) who disguises himself as chairs or lamps in his office. On the other hand, Barry Bostwick, doing a JFK imitation as No. 2, grows tiresome.

A couple of beauties are thrown away: As "Agent 3.14" (another real yuk!) Nicollette Sheridan manages to be both stunning and dull at once. Stephanie Romanov registers more brightly in a lesser role as Agent Barbara Dahl ("Barbie Doll," get it). Avuncular Andy Griffith needed Opie along to bring the best out of him; he's just overbearing and loud.

'Spy Hard'

Starring Leslie Nielsen

Directed by Rick Friedberg

Released by Hollywood Pictures

Rated PG-13

Sun score **

Pub Date: 5/24/96

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