Long before the likes of Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg went on to completely cash in and ruin the Satire/Slapstick Comedy Movie genre with such classics like Meet The Spartans, Vampires Suck, Date Movie, Disaster Movie, Epic Movie and every Scary Movie sequel (1st 1 was good), there was a time when Satire and Slapstick was hilarious – especially when it involved the likes of Leslie Neilsen, Lloyd Bridges, and a much more level-headed Charlie Sheen. But before the Naked Gun movies and Hot Shots, there was Airplane…so what can be said about Airplane, and does it still hold up today?
Airplane is the story of 2 ex-lovers, Ted Striker (played by Robert Hays) and Elaine (played by the Bambi-eyed Julie Hagerty) who both end up on the same flight together. Elaine being a stewardess, and Ted deciding to get the flight at the last minute, after realising how much he misses her and wants her back. In the middle of the flight, a majority of the passengers and all 3 pilots fall ill after eating the fish instead of the beef. This results in Ted having to do something that his past likes to remind him of as a failure.
The movie’s plot is so simple that it’s far from the most memorable part of the movie – what is most remembered however are the colourful characters, subtle parodies, over the top slapstick, awesome puns, running gags, wordplay, surreal 4th-wall breaking, and other amusing dialogue, scenarios and jokes. It was Leslie Neilsen’s 1st real comedy after playing mostly in dramas and sci-fi, and his deadpan delivery in this is legendary. We’re also treated to 2 Jive-talking black men who receive subtitles, the manly but oddly homoerotic Captain Oveur (played by Peter Graves), NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as himself trying to do a different job without being recognised, and of course the airport staff, including Lloyd Bridges as McCroskey (the man who gave up everything, and is now doing it again), Robert Stack as Kramer the ex-pilot who wears 2 pairs of sunglasses, and the late, great Stephen Stucker as Johnny, the flamboyant man who likes to play on the job…well, okay, they’re all late…which sucks, because they were great.
Airplane is 1 of those sorts of comedies that doesn’t really take a break. It’s like an assembly line of jokes and gags. Every time a scene starts, it will have at least 1 joke or gag before it ends, whether within the context of the story, or happening in the background. It’s a style that can work incredibly well in the right hands, and unfortunately it’s a style that may have been lost in the over-abundance of similar but unfunny material. It’s also important to know that this movie is hilarious in its own right – you don’t need to know any of the film references to get the jokes, and it works perfectly in this way. Although it could be argued that the film has become a little dated, and even stepped into the realms of classics like Chaplin, The Marx Brothers, 3 Stooges and Mel Brooks. It is something that happens in every film generation, and the 1s that remain funny, even when the source material it’s poking fun at is forgotten, are what we call the classics.
Would I recommend this film? Yes. Is it politically incorrect? Of course! It was 1980 and nobody cared. Comedy-wise the acting is great, the characters are memorable, the writing is excellent, the special effects are both well done and amusing, and the only thing that might make this film less funny is if you have seen it all before. Because it’s basically an original, and 1 that would be influential to the work of other comedy writers. If you’re new to this kind of comedy, it’s an amazing treat.
Overall Rating: ****1/4 out of 5