Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mister Roberts (5) vs. Hot Shots (12)


       “Mister Roberts” is a service comedy released in 1955. It is set on a cargo ship, the U.S.S. Reluctant (“the bucket”) . Mister Roberts (Henry Ford) is the humane second in command to the tyrannical Lt. Cmdr. Morton (James Cagney). Roberts is responsible for the efficiency that got Morton a palm tree as a reward. Ensign Pulver (Jack Lemmon) is the slacker ladies man and William Powell is the sage-like doctor. Roberts has a strong desire to get to a combat vessel before the fun ends. However, he has to give up his transfer requests in order to get the crew liberty at a port. He agrees to kowtow to the captain. The crew thinks he has turned into a typical officer until the secret is revealed.

       “Hot Shots” is a spoof of war films in general and “Top Gun” in particular. It was released in 1991 and was directed by one of the “Airplane!” guys. The plot (such as there is) involves a corrupt contractor’s attempts to sabotage a secret mission named Sleepy Weasel in order to get the Navy to order his fighter. Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen) is talked out of retirement to join the mission. He is suffering from mental anguish over his father’s involvement in another pilot’s death (he was mistaken for a deer by a hunter after surviving a crash). His squadron mates include the walleyed Washout (future co-star Jon Cryer) and Dead Meat. He and his rival Kent Gregory (Cary Elwes) are both interested in Ramada (Valeria Golino). The mission to bomb an Iraqi nuclear power plant does not go smoothly, but Topper saves the day.


        “Mister Roberts” has an all-star main group – Fonda, Cagney, Lemmons, and Powell. They are all great in their roles. Lemmon won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He steals the show as the wolf with women, sheep with the captain. The crew has many familiar faces and some very capable character actors.

        “Hot Shots” is populated with B-Listers. Sheen is adequate as the lead. He seems to be having a good time and must have enjoyed being paid for little effort. Lloyd Bridges has fun with the role of the senile Admiral. It takes an old veteran to keep a straight face through the lines he has to spout. Golino is pretty, but average as an actress. The rest of the cast is unmemorable. Elwes is wasted.

First half score: Mister Roberts – 45 Hot Shots – 33


       “Mister Roberts” has the distinct feeling of a play (which is what it is based on). And it has the subtle humor of most comedy plays. There are few laugh out loud moments. It is much more serious than “Hot Shots” and even has a depressing ending. The gentle humor makes fun of the Merchant Marine and the dynamics between the officers and the crew. In many ways it is a drama with humor integrated very efficiently.

      “Hot Shots” is clearly from the “Airplane!” school of comedy. The gags begin during the credits and no minute goes by without at least one joke. The jokes mostly fall into sight gags, slapstick, and just plain silly. You do not need to be sophisticated to enjoy the humor (and if you are, you probably will not like it). There are even running gags ( e.g., people keep sitting on a chihuahua, don’t ask). Some of the humor is low-brow, but inspired. The whole story of Dead Meat, which begins with his having pictures of every loved one on his bunk and ends with every bad omen you can imagine leading into his last flight, is hilarious. The skewering of “Top Gun” is pretty effective, but the other parodies are lame. Many of the jokes fall flat, but if you prefer quantity over quality in your comedies – it would be hard to beat.

Second half score: Mister Roberts - 33 Hot Shots - 40


        “Hot Shots” has its dedicated fans, but you need to be drunk or high to laugh at most of the jokes. It bludgeons you with a constant bombardment of gags. Many of them are painful, but there is something to be said for groaners especially when you know the filmmaker does not care and is being paid by the joke. It makes no attempt to be remembered as a classic. It has no point to make.

        “Mister Roberts” could not be more different than “Hot Shots”. It is adult comedy. It takes itself seriously. The acting is great and the plot is strong. The movie is one of the most respected war comedies. The movie was nominated for Best Picture and is considered a classic. Its most memorable character won an Academy Award. You will not laugh as much, but it is definitely a better war comedy than “Hot Shots”.

      “MISTER ROBERTS” - 78
      “HOT SHOTS” - 73


  1. These are two very different movies. Great job in bringing them together.
    I love them both even though I really don't like Fonda.

  2. I can't take credit for bringing them together. It's just how they matched up based on their Rotten Tomatoes ratings. If I had matched up movies based on them being the opposite of each other, I could hardly have done better. What is there to dislike about Henry Fonda? You prefer Charlie Sheen?

  3. It's the way Fonda delivers his lines. Having said that I can't quite put my finger on it. I found him unbearable in Battle of the Bulge. I really don't know too much about the man Henry Fonda only the characters I can recall. He's much better at playing the bad guy though.
    I think Sheen is great in this movie - as I'm pretty sure he did a few serious roles before this. But as we've said these films are so far apart it's hard to compare the two.
    Do I prefer Sheen? I find Sheen more likeable (even when he's being a knob) but Fonda certainly has the better acting track record.

  4. Thanks for sharing. I personally like Fonda, but don't recall a lot of movies where he played the bad guy. He was great in "Once Upon a Time in the West". As far as Sheen, I checked his filmography and was surprised to learn he had peaked by the time he made this movie. In fact, it could be argued that he has not made a good movie since "Hot Shots! Part Deux".

  5. Fonda was a sympathetic villain in "Firecreek" and an arrogant Custer-like officer in "Fort Apache." Other than that, he usually played the good guy. Like Gregory Peck, he sort of became a larger-than-life icon for liberal democratic values (as John Wayne and Gary Cooper did for the conservatives). That too-good-to-be-true image may be what some people find annoying.


Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.