Los Angeles. Night. 67 degrees and clear. When we first meet Detective Jack Colt (Emilio Estevez), he’s firing an automatic weapon inside a convenience store to foil a robbery attempt by two young thugs. An excessive exchange of bullets fly through the air, shattering cooler doors and destroying every shelving unit in sight. The men behind the counter pull out a flame thrower, bathing the already-bright store with waves of orange causing popcorn kernels to pop on command. A baddie pulls out a rocket launcher that explodes a stack of 30-packs. It’s one of the most ridiculous firefights in cinema, culminating in a Colt victory as he shoots the hooligans through the glass storefront; they backflip and twirl through the air like they’re competing in the Olympics. What feels like a minute passes before their bodies slam to meet the concrete. “I know what you’re thinking, punk,” mutters Colt. “’Did he fire 173 times? Or 174? Well, do you feel lucky, punk?”
Welcome to National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1, the best spoof movie from an era that delivered a swarm of them. It’s a movie modeled after one of the greatest buddy-cop franchises of its time (Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon). Though it didn’t star Leslie Nielsen nor was it directed by the masterful Mel Brooks, I fear it’s not only commonly overlooked, but criminally underrated—and dammit, it just doesn’t get the love it deserves.
When Detective Wes Luger’s (Samuel L. Jackson) former partner Billy York (Whoopi Goldberg) is murdered at the hands of a brutish, bearded adult male dressed as a girl scout (the inimitable Tim Curry), he’s partnered up with Colt, a gun-happy loner who lives for bending the rules. Colt’s a man torn apart by the absence of Claire, his dog. She didn’t die, she just left him to pick up the fragmented pieces of his broken heart over cocktails of whiskey, vodka, and dollops of chocolate syrup all mixed together. Luger, on the other hand, is a detective who approaches his job defensively after suffering from a traumatic experience involving a mime’s fake hostage situation. York’s murder brings back Luger’s past shortcomings as he gets to know his wild and unyielding new partner. As the two cops dig deeper into their investigation, they unravel a ploy by a criminal organization spiking Girl Scout cookies with cocaine (“No wonder I couldn’t eat just one!”). William Shatner plays General Mortars, the big bad crime boss, while Curry plays his savage, yet inept enforcer, and yes, a sometimes cross-dressing Girl Scout. (Curry’s first line—“Wilderness Girls!”—is unforgettable. The man is royalty.)
Colt and Luger toy with the “damaged detective” trope so much that it’s beautiful comedic overkill. The “by-the-book cop meets cowboy-cop” routine puts the two at odds until they learn to work together and respect each other. Writer-director Gene Quintano leans in hard on these tropes and pushes them further with every ludicrous scene that follows. Loaded Weapon is relentless as it tries to continuously top itself, playing into and twisting the buddy-cop tropes that made Lethal Weapon so memorable in the first place—just like every great parody should.
Colt and Luger are a duo for the record books both in character and out. Jackson was in the midst of a huge year, having appeared in True Romance, Jurassic Park, and Menace II Society in ‘93 alone. As for the Breakfast Clubber, Estevez was between Mighty Ducks films and would continue on with Another Stakeout and Judgment Night. And while spoofs often dip into stunt casting to capitalize on the element of silly surprise, nothing compares to Curry and his pigtails, a true testament to casting director Ferne Cassel. But the star power doesn’t end there. Kathy Ireland, Jon Lovitz, Denis Leary, and F. Murray Abraham co-star, with additional cameos by Charlie Sheen, Phil Hartman, Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox (reprising their CHiPs roles), Paul Gleason, Corey Feldman, and Bruce Willis. It’s a bonkers cast that not only works, it kills.
While the early seedlings of parody films can be traced to the Golden Age of Hollywood—with decades of silent comedies and political satires providing commentary on The Great Depression and a war-torn America—no writer or director was more influential to the modern-day spoof than Mel Brooks. Brooks’ work walked a tightrope between satire and spoof, parodying classic directors (High Anxiety), genres (Blazing Saddles), and pop culture tales (Spaceballs) flawlessly. While Monty Python and the Holy Grail deserves its due, Brooks made a career out of spoofing past and present culture, and much of his influence can be felt in movies like The Naked Gun, Hot Shots, Spy Hard, High School High, and later, Austin Powers and Scary Movie.
Loaded Weapon 1 was written by Don Holley and Quintano, who’s known for writing the third and fourth Police Academy movies. While the decade was quickly finding its comedic backbone in extravagant silliness, Loaded Weapon’s pop culture relevance was akin to a series-best SNL season. The movie ribbed on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Basic Instinct, Die Hard, and Silence of the Lambs in ways that were over-the-top yet self-serving to its story. In the Lambs parody, Abraham plays Harold Leacher, a cannibal with prime intel on Mortars who tells the detectives that human flesh tastes like chicken. In its Basic Instinct riff, a downtown police interrogation turns Ireland’s character into Catherine Tramell and later, an actual beaver. (If you know the scene, you get the joke.)
Loaded Weapon 1 delivers with every line of dialogue, every bit of slapstick, and every reference it throws down. The visual detail in its scenes, like the nonchalant background arrest of Mr. Potato Head, is equally as nonsensical as the words coming out of the actors’ mouths. Endless props, lightning-fast wordplay, and hilarious deadpan deliveries by its able cast only add to its charm. While it’s undeniably a product of the ‘90s, it perfectly executes its chosen brand of hilarity.
At their most effective, spoofs can become just as memorable and iconic as their predecessors. Perhaps it’s unfair to argue that Loaded Weapon 1 belongs beside legends of the genre; however, it does deserve recognition as a seminal comedy of its era. From the second Estevez blows up that convenience store to the movie’s Wayne’s World-erific ending headbanging to Queen, Loaded Weapon is truly a movie worth cherishing.