Movie Article

Ready for Take Off

On the set of 'Hot Shots!' -- How to keep a straight face on the wacko set of Jim Abrahams' hit ''Top Gun'' parody

Charlie Sheen squints from the cockpit of a fighter jet as it roars down the runway of an aircraft carrier. He's playing Topper Harley, a Navy pilot with a humiliating past and a broken heart to deal with. Suddenly Topper jams on the brakes. Is it that darn rebellious streak of his making him disobey orders again? No, it's his girl, Navy psychiatrist Ramada (Valeria Golino), who is racing across the flight deck to stop him. On an Andalusian stallion.

Why is there a horse on an aircraft carrier? one might ask. ''Because it's a comedy,'' director Jim Abrahams explains. Sincere absurdity has been Abrahams' hallmark ever since he first collaborated 20 years ago with his childhood chums from Wisconsin, Jerry and David Zucker. As the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team (ZAZ), the trio brought us a raft of sublimely silly films, including 1980's Airplane!, 1984's Top Secret!, and 1986's Ruthless People. Most scored with critics and audiences alike. Then ZAZ split up and Abrahams, 47, took two directorial solo flights, Big Business and Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael, neither of which got off the ground at the box office. Now, as he supervises the strangeness on the set of Hot Shots!, his send-up of 1986's Top Gun, Abrahams is back on familiar turf: a film with good punctuation.

The Navy, understandably, is keeping its distance. ''When you can get kids to recruit off a film, like with Top Gun, they let you have ships,'' says production designer William Elliott. ''Our script didn't feel like that kind of movie, so we had to make our own.'' The flight deck for today's shot is actually just a parking lot perched on the promontory of a cliff in a former marine park in Palos Verdes, Calif., but the wind whipping up from the Pacific is teeth-chatteringly authentic. The crew, in ski wear, moves about like Day-Glo snowmen. Abrahams wears earphones to keep his ears warm. Even the boom mike is covered in fur.

Unfortunately for Valeria Golino, best known as Tom Cruise's girl in Rain Man, she must wear a sleeveless sundress for the plane-meets-horse scene. She stands alone, shivering, looking into the sun for warmth, deliverance, a tan. Sheen sits in his warm cockpit, smoking. Just before the shot, he takes a big drag on his cigarette and hands it to his dresser; Golino sprays Binaca into her mouth.

''They're going to kiss,'' explains Abrahams.

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