TX:(Agent WD-40) … Leslie Nielsen Veronique Ukrinsky TX:(Agent 3.14) … Nicollette Sheridan The Director … Charles Durning Miss Cheevus … Marcia Gay Harden Norman Coleman … Barry Bostwick Kabul … John Ales Gen. Rancor … Andy Griffith Professor Ukrinsky … Elya Baskin McCluckey … Mason Gamble Slice … Carlos Lauchu Victoria/ TX:Barbara Dahl … Stephanie Romanov The picture that will test the durability of Leslie Nielsen’s lowbrow franchise — and proves the talent of the regrettably absent Zucker brothers-Jim Abrahams team –“Spy Hard” sticks so closely to the “Naked Gun” formula that one half-expects an O.J. Simpson cameo. He’d be the only attention-getter in this lackluster entry. Fans of the Nielsen genre will turn out initially, but word of mouth (or lack thereof) should make “Spy Hard” the least successful of the actor’s bigscreen series. Not only is the formula wearing thin — even the jokey end credits couldn’t keep the preview audience seated — but the gags feel recycled: Nielsen’s character has something to say before a golf game. Well, what is it? A game played with clubs and a ball, etc.
Although the four screenwriters (including director Rick Friedberg) had the sense to include spoofs of “Mission: Impossible” and “Speed,” they more often fall back on targets so tired they could be outtakes from “Naked Gun” scripts. Given the youthful target audience, half the ticket-buyers might not remember that Michael Jackson once set his hair on fire. TX:The film is less a spoof of ripe-for-parody “Die Hard”-style actioners than of timeworn James Bonders (via “Get Smart”). Nielsen, reliable even when his material isn’t, stars as Dick Steele, Agent WD-40. He’s called out of retirement to hunt his old nemesis, the evil Gen. Rancor (Andy Griffith), an armless madman planning a global takeover. Joining Steele through various misadventures is agent Veronique Ukrinsky (Nicollette Sheridan), the love interest and sidekick.
TX:A Buena Vista release of a Hollywood Pictures presentation of a Friedberg/Draizin/Konvitz production. Produced by Rick Friedberg, Doug Draizin, Jeffrey Konvitz. Executive producers, Robert L. Rosen, Leslie Nielsen. TX:Directed by Rick Friedberg. Screenplay, Rick Friedberg, Dick Chudnow, Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer; story by Jason Friedberg, Seltzer. Plot is irrelevant, merely providing a backdrop for nonstop puns, sight gags and movie takeoffs. Best of the latter might be lost on the kids: a parody of the bicycle scene from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” complete with “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”
But too many sketches, such as the “Sister Act” knockoff, take little advantage of their premises. One can only guess what Jerry and David Zucker would have done with the dance from “Pulp Fiction.” Friedberg & Co. mimic the scene without any twist.
The cast makes the best of what’s there. Trying hard is Charles Durning as the agency director who is fond of disguising himself as office furniture, Marcia Gay Harden as lustful secretary Miss Cheevus, Barry Bostwick (with an unexplained Kennedy accent) as another agent and Carlos Lauchu as Steele’s undercover chauffeur. The de rigueur cameos (a staple since Ethel Merman graced “Airplane!”) include Fabio, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Robert Culp, Mr. T, Pat Morita and Ray Charles as the bus driver (get it?) in the “Speed” sketch.
Film doesn’t make much use of its famous faces even when hanging on to visual gags a half-beat too long. Friedberg can’t match the Zucker pace that kept audiences from dwelling on clunkers, a lag not helped by the fewerjokes-per-minute ratio of the script: “Spy Hard” lacks the chaotic background gags that made “Airplane!” the visual equivalent of a Howard Hawks verbal barrage.
Also missed is Priscilla Presley, Nielsen’s co-star in the “Gun” movies and his equal in the dim-bulb sweepstakes. Sheridan makes scant impression in a similar role, though others in the cast, notably Griffith, have some fun.
“Weird Al” Yankovic wrote and appears in the opening title sequence, a parody on the “Goldfinger” song that takes too long to pay off. “Spy Hard” itself never does.