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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #304: Thomas "Tug" Benson

"My eyes are ceramic. Caught a bazooka round at Little Big Horn. Or was it Okinawa? The one without the Indians."

Lloyd Bridges was a national treasure. A serious action star in his youth (Sea Hunt!), Bridges passed on the roles of Captain Pike and Captain Kirk in the two original Star Trek pilots, opening the door for William Shatner. In his later years. Bridges reinvented himself as a slapstick star, with his iconic Airplane! role (he picked the wrong day to quit doing all sorts of things), his ancient fitness fanatic Izzy Mendelbaum in Seinfeld, and of course Admiral (later President) Thomas "Tug" Benson in the two Hot Shots! parody films.

There's a lot to love about the Hot Shots! movies, including vintage pre-tiger blood Charlie Sheen's gifted comedic timing and a relentless barrage of send-ups of all things early '90s, mostly centering on the Iraq War and Saddam Hussein. My favorite of these was Bridges' dotty, addled Benson. With most of his body parts replaced due to war wounds (often with aftermarket or ill-considered parts), it was a miracle the man was still upright. And yet he managed to overcome his shoddily-bionic physique to become President of the United States and engage in a lightsaber duel with the Butcher of Baghdad. It's rampant silliness, always sophomoric and often lowbrow and never apologetic, and Benson fits right into the menagerie of broken souls who populate this cracked universe. He rolls out line after line of perfect dialogue, perfectly delivered by Bridges. I'm just going to share a few of my favorites here...

"I don't have a clue what you're talkin' about, Phil. Not a fucking clue. I have a shell the size of a fist in my head. Pork Chop Hill. The only way I can make this goddamn toupee to stay on is by magnetizing the entire upper left quadrant of my skull, so you just go ahead and do what you do."

"I look out there on all you wonderful guys and I say to myself "What I wouldn't give to be 20 years younger... and a woman". You know, I've personally flown over 194 missions and I was shot down on every one. Come to think of it, I've never landed a plane in my life."

"News Reporter: President Benson, where's your first lady?

President Thomas 'Tug' Benson: I don't know. I've had lots of women. Lost my flower at the age of 15. I can't keep track."

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