Quick, which of the following subjects strike you as a bit obvious for parody? Rambo movies. Saddam Hussein. Casablanca. President Bush regurgitating in public. The interrogation scene in Basic Instinct. The binding-your-lover-with-a-silk-scarf routine in Basic Instinct.
If you said ''all of the above,'' it's doubtful you'll find Hot Shots! Part Deux half as funny as you want it to be. Of all the comedies masterminded by at least one member of the team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker (Airplane!), this is the first in which the triumphantly sophomoric, one-damned-gag-after-another aesthetic of ZAZ seems to have lost its wise-guy sparkle. Directed, like the first Hot Shots!, by Abrahams (who cowrote both films with Pat Proft), Part Deux once again features Charlie Sheen as the heartthrob patriot Topper Harley. This time he wears his hair long, his bare-chested body as pumped up as Sylvester Stallone's, and the movie sends him on a mission to rescue hostages from a Hussein-like dictator. Hot Shots! Part Deux has a few moments of manic inspiration (there's a great, postmodern throwaway capping an Apocalypse Now send-up), and it provokes just enough chuckles so that you don't feel cheated. Mostly, though, it's a soggy, underdone affair. Watching it, you feel one step ahead of the movie, instead of the other way around.
Why, in 1993, would someone want to goof on Rambo, anyway? The Top Gun satire in Hot Shots! worked as a tart kiss-off to the high-five swagger of the Reagan-Bush years. By now, though, the pop paramilitarism of the '80s has been roundly deflated. Even Stallone (in the upcoming Cliffhanger) is setting out to reinvent his career for the third or fourth time. What's more, in the CNN era, a parody subject's shelf life isn't what it used to be. A year ago, the sprawling,let's-make-a-slapstick-dork-out-of-Saddam sequence that opens Hot Shots! Part Deux might have seemed charged with vengeful zing. Now it's about as biting as a Richard Nixon joke.
As Topper, Sheen lowers his voice an octave and never drops his stoic superguy facade. There are occasional stabs at giving the character a daffy- effeminate underside (and Sheen seems more than game to oblige). But Abrahams doesn't do enough to transform Topper into a truly warped straight arrow, like Leslie Nielsen's Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun films. Much of the time, the film itself veers perilously close to becoming the sort of high- body-count action spectacular it's supposed to be parodying. When gags are tossed off in the midst of bomb blasts and deafening machine-gun fire, is it any wonder that audiences will tend to ignore the comedy and focus on the mayhem? If Hot Shots! Part Deux proves anything, it's that making fun of big, raucous, sky-high explosions is a joke of rapidly diminishing returns.