Charlie Sheen hasn’t always been an icon of internet mockery. In fact, he was ‘bi-winning’ as the son of Martin Sheen during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Born into greatness, it would only be a matter of time before he found industry success, appearing in the lead role of Oliver Stone’s Vietnam epic Platoon in 1986 before acting next to Michael Douglas in Wall Street a year later. Though, in a somewhat bizarre act of self-mockery, it was his role as Topper Harley in Jim Abrahams’ spoof film Hot Shots that would make him an early cult icon.
The idea of the ‘spoof’ is one that has always existed in the cinema industry, with Mel Brooks pioneering the genre with films such as Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein throughout the 1970s. Establishing the director as a titan of comedy, but also of filmmaking, the two releases would become widely recognised as classics of their era. Such, no doubt, inspired Monty Python’s Life of Brian fuelled by a beating heart of a strong storyline, as well as 1980s classic comedy Airplane! directed by David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams.
Whilst Brooks’ films including Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein stuck to a more rigid storyline, the emergence of the Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams somehow saw comedy being taken even less seriously. Airplane!, The Naked Gun and Top Secret! became scrapbooks of random events and silly sequences, shaking up the spoof genre even more vigorously as they became the films of choice for childish sleepovers worldwide.
Hot Shots!, released in 1991, was one of the most culturally resonant films of the genre, helmed by Jim Abrahams, the co-writer and co-director of Airplane!. Starring Charlie Sheen as practically the only recognisable name on the cast list, alongside Cary Elwes, Lloyd Bridges and Valeria Golino, the film is a parody of Tony Scott’s Top Gun following an unstable fighter pilot who must overcome personal grief to save an important mission.
Though, for Charlie Sheen, it was truly a lifelong dream to work with the individuals who created what he thought was one of the most influential comedies of all time in Airplane!. Speaking to Yahoo Movies, Sheen stated, “When I was younger, my brother Emilio (Estevez) and I sat on a Friday night in a packed cinema and watched Airplane!, and it was life-changing”. Continuing, the actor added, “It changed everything; how we looked at movies, how we looked at the world. It was like somebody got our humour and was finally in line with our inane foolishness”.
A genre ‘drilled into his DNA’, Sheen also commented that when he met writers Jim Abrahams and Pat Proft, “They said, ‘are you comfortable doing this?’ and I said ‘Yeah — I’m going to borrow everything from Leslie Nielsen”. Indeed, Charlie Sheen is excellent in the lead role, perfectly toeing the line between sincerity and silliness as he delivers each line with comedic aplomb. Granted, he never quite reaches the comedy heights of Leslie Nielsen, a man responsible for some of cinema’s most hilarious roles, including Police Squad’s Frank Drebin.
Taking time to ridicule other iconic 20th century films including Dances with Wolves, Marathon Man, Rocky, Superman and Gone with the Wind, Hot Shots! carries more similarities to the contemporary Scary Movie films rather than the sharp 1980s comedy classics. Remaining a cult movie for silly comedy fans worldwide, the joys of Jim Abrahams and Charlie Sheen transcend decades and generations.