During the early and mid-1990’s, things began to fall a part for us cynical bastards who enjoy kicking our feet up and watching the world burn. The USSR was gone and the White House was occupied by a sick man who liked pussy more than guns. The country was going soft and 80s Action was dying on the vine of decline. Something had to be done to preserve the careers of Arnold, Sly and friends during these epicene times and the abomination that is 90s, 80s Action/Comedy was born. 90s, 80s Action/Comedy wasn’t a sub-genre of 80s Action, so much as it was the severely retarded son of 80s Action who was sent to an institution upstate at eighteen months of age and never spoken of again. Although there are only a few 90s, 80s Action/Comedies, I will establish a new template for dealing with them. Just in case I decide to review Twins or Kindergarten Cop. Here goes.
How Ill Conceived Was It?
This is where 90s, 80s Action/Comedy stands out. You will rarely find films based on such bad ideas, because the central tenet of 90s, 80s Action/Comedy is that comedic films should star the least funny actors in the world. In the case of Top Dog, the pitch must have run something like this;
Idea Man: How did Turner & Hooch and K-9 do at the box office?
Producer: I think Turner & Hooch made a very small profit. K-9 probably make like 75% of its investment back.
Idea Man: Not bad! Now suppose we improve upon the “tough cop partnered with a cute dog” formula. You could be looking at the kind of returns normally offered by a savings account, or possibly even a CD.
Producer: Okay, but how could you possibly improve upon Turner & Hooch?
Idea Man: Well, I think the problem with that film was that it starred a gifted comic actor.
Producer: Yes, that does seem like a poor choice. I’m listening…
Idea Man: OK, you ready? Chuck Norris!
Producer: And he would play the cop or the dog?
Idea Man: The cop. Sort of a straight man for a wacky dog. A very, very straight man.
Producer: Brilliant! Let’s go hog wild. I’m budgeting this film at $10 million!
How Bad Was It?
Perfectly terrible. Some movies are so bad that they’re just unwatchable. Others, like Top Dog are made with enough competence to be bearable and enough stupidity to be hilarious. A scene involving the super-sniffing abilities of the dog, “Reno,” sent me into a laughing fit that restarted twice after the fact. Reno can smell out any kind of explosive or drug, which is impressive enough. But when Chuck is searching for evidence in a Nazi’s desk, Reno aids by sniffing out a secret switch that opens a hidden compartment, containing incriminating photos. Perhaps the switch had some cocaine on it, but I think we are supposed to believe that Reno can sniff out switches.
Top Dog is also laden with plot holes and irrationalities. For example, every time a cop comes anywhere near the Nazi operation, the Nazis unnecessarily kill him. I can just imagine the Stupid Chief (yes, there was one) piecing that evidence together, “Every time I send a cop to investigate this group down at the docks, he gets shot. Something fishy’s going on here. Better send another cop…” In reality, however, the police investigators do not posses such acumen. After the Nazis kill a cop who has come aboard their boat, and toss him overboard (the boat was docked in harbor, by the way), Norris puzzles over where to look for clues. Perhaps at the dock where the corpse turned up?
Was It Actually Funny?
Most of the jokes are about on this level; Norris takes his new partner back to his messy bachelor pad. The dog looks around at the mess… and runs out the door! Chuck is even messier than a dog! The one intentionally funny joke is that the Stupid Chief is a Japanese-American named Callahan.
Mostly, we’re relying on unintentional humor, and as I’ve said, there is plenty of it. One semi-intentional laugh comes at the end of the film. Reno and Chuck have just saved the Pope (who has like maybe three security guards) and a couple of other religious leaders from a terrorist attack. Reno, apparently a scarf fetishist, grabs the Pope’s scarf and runs with it, sending the Pope flipping into the air. The scene is played as another goof by the mischievous mutt, complete with freeze frames of the human reaction shots. The funny thing is that it looks for all the world as if the Pope has been killed. His legs fly several feet into the air as his head falls to the concrete. The Pope lays motionless as goofy music plays and the humans chase after the lovable mutt. “REEE-NOOOO! You killed the Pope!” Wah-wah-wah-waaaaaahhhh!