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Friday, May 24, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Run For Cover, 007: Agent Wd-40 Is Here And No Mature Adult Is Safe

Special To The Seattle Times

----------------------------------------------------------------- Movie review

XX "Spy Hard," with Leslie Nielsen, Nicollette Sheridan. Directed by Rick Friedberg from a script by Friedberg and Dick Chudnow, with Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Aurora, Bella Bottega 7, Broadway Market, Crossroads, Everett 9, Factoria, Grand Cinemas, Issaquah 9, Kent 6, Kirkland Parkplace, Lewis & Clark, Metro, Mountlake 9, Puyallup 6, SeaTac North, Valley drive-in. "PG-13" for immature subject matter. -----------------------------------------------------------------

It's hard to think of another actor who so clearly defines his movies as Leslie Nielsen. Since the early 1980s, his name has been synonymous with the wacky parody. Lt. Frank Drebin was laid to rest two years ago with "Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult." With "Spy Hard," Nielsen is shooting for another franchise character: super agent Dick Steele.

Director Rick Friedberg worked with Nielsen on a series of Dollar Rent-A-Car commercials. He packs "Spy Hard" with tons of gags and the result, though no classic, hits the mark more than the lame "National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon" or Mel Brooks' dreadful "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" (with Nielsen). "Spy Hard" connects with several jabs but never gets near a knockout punch.

The spy thriller certainly has plenty of targets, the Bond series being only the starting point. Friedberg and his writers don't stop there; their philosophy is a movie pun is a movie pun no matter what the genre. The three minute opening of "Spy Hard" contains references to 007, "Cliffhanger," "Air America," "Up Close & Personal," "Mission: Impossible," "The A-Team" and even "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." And those are just the ones I caught.

"Agent WD-40" is brought back into the spy business to deal with his archenemy, General Rancor (Andy Griffith). Of course the story is told in broad strokes as Steele bumps into leggy Agent 3.14 (Nicollette Sheridan), an agency director who loves disguises (Charles Durning) and assorted sidekicks.

The most inspired bit is the hilarious title sequence spoofing the traditional Bond setup. They found a master to tackle this bit with "Weird Al" Yankovic. The rest of the cast and cameos are pedestrian. Do we really need to see Dr. Joyce Brothers again? Does anyone under 20 know who she is?

There are dozens of movies parodied (or just repeated) including "Jurassic Park," "Speed," "Pulp Fiction," "True Lies" and a much-needed Macaulay Culkin bashing.

Behind Nielsen's best, earlier work (including the Holy Grail of parodies, "Airplane!") was Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers, David and Jerry (or "Zucker Abrahams Zucker" or "ZAZ"). It's easy to say "Spy Hard" is not as good as ZAZ's features, but there's no one else making this kind of spoof anymore (though one more "First Knight"-size flop might bring Jerry back).

ZAZ already did a spy spoof 12 years ago with "Top Secret!" Val Kilmer's debut was a tighter, hipper film. "Spy Hard" just comes off as a long commercial. And yes, that means most of the best moments you've seen in the movie's trailer.

The video industry plays a big part in creating the pace of "Spy Hard" (would a younger crowd even understand the parody of the 27-year-old "Butch Cassidy" without video?). It seems the movie is fast-forwarding through several movies, never wanting to stop for more than a minute. The funniest bit in the last "Naked Gun" was the long Oscar-ceremony spoof. Nothing in "Spy Hard" takes that much time or care.

At the heart of the film is the lovable Nielsen. Expressing the pure enjoyment of what he's doing makes much of "Spy Hard" work. At a youthful 70 years, Nielsen has even picked up his first executive-producer credit. Who knows if that had an impact on the movie's tone - however, "Spy Hard" is less offensive than the "Naked Gun" series.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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