Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty
Director: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
A hilarious parody of airplane disaster movies, and perhaps air travel in general, Airplane! loosely tells the story of a flight in which half the passengers and all the pilots are taken ill on a flight. One air hostess (Hagerty) tries to keep it all together, but the only man who might be able to save them is her ex-boyfriend who has gotten on the flight to convince her to come back to him. The only problem is… he has PTSD from the war!
That’s generally the plot, anyway, but it’s not really the point of the film at all, which is more like a series of sketch comedies that take place on the plane, in flash back and in the air traffic control room.
Leslie Nielsen plays a doctor on the plane who is trying to help sick people and get’s to deliver some great lines, but everyone in this film is really good. The film mixes sight gags like people being delivered down the luggage carosel while their suitcases wait for them, to great dialogue (“Surely you can’t be serious?” “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.”) and call backs, as well as physical comedy. It’s a very funny film and feels like it moves quite fast, each scene using different ways to get you to laugh.
By the time Airplane! came out, the disaster movie genre was almost played out. Films like Towering Inferno had struck a cord with audiences, but had started to become cookie cutter. This film took that template, and in fact actually tok a film called Zero Hour wholesale, and remade it for laughs, playing up all the standard things you’d find in these films and having fun with them. Nun? Check. Sick child? Check. Man who needs to get over his traumatic past? Check.
It’s worth noting that this element of plot, while easily lost in the comedy, seems to make this film a little more strong than previous films by this trio (Top Secret, Kentucky Fried Movie).
As a whole, the film hasn’t dated all that much, and still manages to a a great parody of the genre, though the blaxploitation joke where jove talking black guys need a translator may be lost on some, and the paedophilic remarks of the captain towards the little boy might not be as funny now as they were then, but on the whole, it’s a comedy classic.
See It If: you ever felt scared to get on a plane…. It’s a genuinely funny film that satires and overwrought and melodramatic genre, the disaster movie, in a way that’s just a bit R rated and is still wickedly funny.