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August 2, 2012



by Franz Patrick

Airplane! (1980)
★★★★ / ★★★★

On a last-minute effort to win over his stewardess girlfriend, Elaine (Julie Hagerty), Ted (Robert Hays) decided to buy a plane ticket for Trans American Airlines. Elaine was far from impressed because she made it clear prior to boarding that their relationship was over. Ted, a former squadron leader in the Air Force, had too much baggage like his trauma from the war. When the passengers began to show classic symptoms of food poisoning, including the pilot (Peter Graves) and co-pilot (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), it was up to Ted, with the help of an air traffic controller (Lloyd Bridges) with a penchant for sniffing glue and Ted’s former captain (Robert Stack) out for revenge, to land the plane safely in Chicago. Written and directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, the jokes in “Airplane!” did not always work but it almost didn’t matter because so much was thrown at the screen every five seconds, the ones that did stick were uproariously funny. Not one group was safe and I appreciated that even though some of the jabs were potentially offensive, the film was able to deliver them with wit and infectious energy. Some of these groups included a pair of jive-talking African-American who were subtitled every time they spoke even though some of us were able to get the gist of what they were talking about in the first place, a little girl scheduled to get a heart transplant who was subjected to more pain when Randy (Lorna Patterson) the stewardess played a nun’s acoustic guitar, a homosexual who failed to take anything seriously as his colleagues scrambled to find ways to land the plane safely, and even individuals who liked to sleep with animals. Since everyone was fair game, it never seemed to run out of funny one-liners and situational humor. I’m particularly difficult to please when it comes to slapstick comedy, but I found myself consistently laughing out loud, for instance, when we were shown excrement literally hitting the fan when things turned from very bad to much, much worse. Sitting through it was enjoyable because although the screenplay parodied disaster movies, specifically the clichés that defined them, the overall product was not a carbon copy. Each cliché had an unexpected twist to them. For example, when it made fun of the famous kissing montage in Fred Zinnemann’s “From Here to Eternity,” a catfish could be found next to Elaine and Ted while they were sprawled on the beach. What would a typical-looking catfish be doing in salt water? It was one of the many moments where I was caught completely off-guard and I couldn’t help but embrace its silliness. However, the film was not without superfluous prattle. One or two montages of Ted reminiscing about his past was enough. The joke was that whenever he sat next to someone, he would tell his story. By the end of it, the listener committed suicide. The joke was amusing but the flashback sequences were not. It didn’t help that his moments of recollection felt overlong, at times awkward and unfunny, forced–even in a grab bag of treats. Shirley that some of the jokes found in “Airplane!” had become outdated. But so what? The film went for it. My advice: given the choice to eat steak or fish while on a flight, choose steak. Even if you’re a vegan.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Aug 3 2012

    Classic :D

  2. Aug 3 2012

    I’m happy to know that Airplane still holds up for new viewers!

    • Aug 3 2012

      Absolutely. A lot of the stereotypes and cliches it made fun of had become even more solidified in many disaster flicks these days, although not necessarily limited to that arena. With each bad one that comes out, this movie’s power seems to be that much more lasting.

  3. Aug 10 2012

    A fantastic comedy for sure. Truly one of the best.


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