Airplane! (1980)


Joey, Do You Like Movies About Gladiators?

Day two of my contest brings us to the comedy genre.  Yesterday’s review of the Rundown turned out to be fairly controversial, especially amongst the people who lost it.  They named numerous movies that even I would call “better” movies, but that’s not what this contest is about.  It’s about my favorite movie, whether you agree with it or not.  That being said, I feel like today’s comedy doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for argument.  Everyone that I know that has seen this movie at least likes it, and the American Film Institute (last I checked) had this movie rated as the 10th best comedy of all time.  Even though this movie is before my time, I was able to see it when I was young and I’ve loved it ever since.  My favorite comedy of all time is Airplane!, written and directed by David and Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams, and starring Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Frank Ashmore, Lorna Patterson, Stephen Stucker, Jonathan Banks, Barbara Billingsley, and Otto.

Ted Striker (Robert Hays) rushes to the airport to try to patch things up with his girlfriend Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) who has left him because his residual trauma from being in a war has led to him being unable to hold a job or show any ambition.  Elaine is a stewardess and has to leave before reconciliation can be reached, so Ted gets a smoking ticket for the flight to try to get another chance to talk to her.  On the flight, all of the passengers and crew members that had fish for dinner fall ill, including the pilot Captain Oveur (Peter Graves), the copilot Roger Murdock (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and the navigator Victor Basta (Frank Ashmore).  With the plane being controlled only by the autopilot (Otto), Dr. Barry Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) works with Elaine and Randy (Lorna Patterson) to try to find someone on the flight with any experience flying.  It turns out Ted is the only one, but can he overcome his drinking problem and post-traumatic stress disorder to safely land the plane?

I love the tits right off of this movie.  This is the finest example of a comedy movie I was able to think of.  It is literally overflowing with jokes.  The story of the movie is fine enough, but it’s really just a placeholder to keep people’s attention.  And you have to pay attention because the jokes are everywhere and not all of them are going to be pointed out to you.  Sometimes you’ll have to be looking at the background to see small jokes, like spank magazines as a section on a magazine rack.  I can’t say that I really laugh while watching this movie anymore, but that’s mainly just because I can probably say each joke before they get to them after how many times I’ve seen this.  I still laughed when the little girl said that she takes her coffee black, like she takes her men.  It also cracked me up when Oveur was saying a string of things that bordered on inappropriate to young Joey in the cockpit.  And having all of the passengers on the plane lining up to beat the piss out of a lady is still funny to me.  So basically, I like it when women and children are abused and/or traumatized.  That’s hilarious to me.

The story is secondary to my enjoyment of this movie.  It’s mainly the jokes.  To talk about the jokes and how effective they are, I decided to break them into a few categories.  The first is my favorite: the wordplay.  They constantly take common sayings and take them literally to comedic effect.  Some of the best ones include when the lady was asking Ted if he was nervous because it was his first time on a plane and he responded with, “No, I’ve been nervous lots of times,” when anyone says, “What is it?” and they misinterpret it by describing what a cockpit is, and Ted’s “drinking problem” is that he misses his mouth.  The most famous wordplay joke is one that I still quote to this day: the “don’t call me Shirley” joke.  This is probably one of the most quotable movies as well, so I hope that more people watch it so that they can start quoting this instead of quoting the far inferior comedies that I hear people constantly quote.  Some of the jokes are straight up racist, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think they’re funny.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  These are things like the two black guys that only speak in “jive”, the fact that the Molumbos are instantly good at basketball, and the Air Israel plane looking like a Hasidic Jew.  There are a couple of jokes that are a little easy, like the old lady that describes how pretty Elaine is by getting a little too descriptive about her body and the old white lady that speaks fluent jive, but they are still solid.  I also think there’s a pretty good amount of jokes in this movie that may be lost on a younger audience.  There are some that even I don’t get and may have to wait until a future, more educated with random trivia-infused viewing.  The Saturday Night Fever scene is probably lost on young folks, and even I don’t really know who Ethel Merman is.  The whole “Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home” joke is based on a commercial that I’ve never seen, but I at least know about it.  I could equate it to the other classic “ancient Chinese secret” commercial.  Also, I wouldn’t be too shocked if younger people don’t know who Gerald Ford is, but that’s less youth and more stupidity.  I would certainly hope that everyone would get the Jaws parody that opens the movie, but since I saw Jaws late in life, I couldn’t blame them.

The performances in this movie are what really sell it.  Obviously, as this movie is a comedy, the jokes are what is really important, but the fact that all of the actors play almost every moment completely seriously sells the jokes that much more.  They play it like they’re in a serious drama – or at least a bad soap opera – the entire time, which makes the ridiculous things that are going on around them – or even coming out of their mouths – that much sweeter.  Almost everyone works for me in this movie, but most of them don’t work in a way that caused me to have a comment about them.  I really liked Lloyd Bridges in this movie, especially the parts about his steadily increasing drug problem that he picked a bad time to quit.  My favorite character was strangely one that had absolutely nothing to do with the plot of the movie: Stephen Stucker as Johnny.  He was in the background of almost every scene in the tower and would only participate to run in and say some crazy non sequitur and run off.  And Leon is getting LAAAAARGER!  I love that fuckin’ guy.  Julie Hagerty didn’t do very much that was funny, but her quiet, meek little voice made some things extra funny, like when Leslie Nielsen asked her if she could handle some bad news and she meekly responded, “No,” before he started to tell her the bad news.  And, speaking of Leslie Nielsen, he’s amazing in this and almost everything and I fucking miss that guy.  RIP Leslie Nielsen.  The only negative part of this movie is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  He was definitely not interested in participating in this movie, but they had some jokes to make that required him to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, so they had to just deal with it.

Even though it’s getting on in years, Airplane! is still my favorite comedy.  The story is fine, but what really sells it is how densely packed the movie is with comedy, and how the performances perform it like a drama.  I can’t imagine anyone not liking this movie, but I can imagine not wanting to hang out with someone who didn’t.  I definitely recommend this movie.  Airplane! gets “Oh, it’s a big pretty white plane with red stripes, curtains in the windows and wheels and it looks like a big Tylenol” out of “Flying a plane is no different than riding a bicycle, just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes.”

Congratulations goes to Chris who not only managed to guess this movie, but managed to guess it without naming every other movie in the genre first.

Let’s get these reviews more attention, people.  Post reviews on your webpages, tell your friends, do some of them crazy Pinterest nonsense.  Whatever you can do to help my reviews get more attention would be greatly appreciated.  You can also add me on FaceBook (Robert T. Bicket) and Twitter (iSizzle).  Don’t forget to leave me some comments.  Your opinions and constructive criticisms are always appreciated.

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