#1 Airplane!

(1980, Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker)

“Surely you can’t be serious?”
“I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley”

Airplane! is a bit of an odd movie to start this inevitably long running series with. It’s not really a film you could ever call “high-brow” or indeed anything other than simplistic entertainment. It’s exactly the opposite of the kind of movie you’d probably expect to find on a list like the one I’m working off. If I were a lesser reviewer, one who wished to give an impression of appearing cultured and refined, I’d turn my nose up at it, claiming that it shouldn’t be on this esteemed list of movies that must be seen before one’s demise. However, I’m not trying to appear cultured, I’m here to evaluate whether or not these movies are indeed worth watching, and Airplane!, without question, is worth watching.

For those who don’t know the deal with Airplane, it’s the signature movie from the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker parody team, taking the plot, and most of the dialogue, of disaster movie Zero Hour, turning it on its head, and inserting puns and sight gags aplenty. The basic premise is that a passenger flight suffers a series of disasters, and the only people who can save them are a quick-thinking doctor and a former war pilot who has to overcome his issues before he can successfully fly the plane to safety. It’s very simple stuff, but what makes this movie so memorable is the jokes.

Sure, the gags themselves are pretty cheesy and silly, there’s no denying that. There’s a strong reliance on puns, and in lesser movies they could easily fall flat. Not so much here. What the producer/director team rightfully did was have the cast play the whole thing completely straight. After all, much of the cast consisting not of comedians, but serious actors such as Lloyd Bridges or Robert Stack, who were told to play their parts as if they were in a straight remake of Zero Hour.

In fact, this was the movie that turned Leslie Nielsen from serious movies to comedies, and it’s easy to see why. His performance easily steals the show here. His appearance as the doctor who largely takes charge of the escalating situation is played completely deadpan, and yet many of his lines are some of the more absurd, e.g. his annoyance at people calling him Shirley (see opening quote), and it works amazingly well.

The gags do come thick and fast too, so much so that some can actually be missed the first time, which makes repeated viewings all the more rewarding. I’ve seen this movie many times in the past, and yet watching it again for this review, I picked up on a few little jokes that I’d never spotted before. It’s a testament to the script and the direction that a comedy movie such as this can still surprise you several years on.

I could talk about the technical aspects of this movie, go into great detail about characterisation and plot development, but I’d be wasting both my time and yours. This movie isn’t concerned with any of that. It’s just a gleeful trip through an absurd alternate universe that never fails to raise a laugh. It may have its plot holes, it may have anachronisms (a rough bar on the wrong side of the tracks turning into an impromptu re-enactment of Saturday Night Fever?), but that’s the whole point. It’s meant to raise a chuckle, nothing more.

In conclusion, a very silly movie, but immense fun. Definitely a must watch.

Starring Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves & Leslie Nielsen
Written by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams & Jerry Zucker
Produced by Jon Davidson
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc
Editing by Patrick Kennedy

Favourite Scene: “I just wanna wish you both good luck. We’re all counting on you” or, really, whenever Leslie Nielsen is on screen
The Scene That Bugged Me: For some reason, Stryker’s “what a pisser” line is always a joke that falls flat with me.

Watch it if: You’re looking for a way to cure your drinking problem.
Avoid if: You had the fish for dinner.

Originally posted on Blogspot Sunday 9 October 2011


Posted on March 9, 2012, in 1980s, Comedy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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