Airplane! /
Airplane II: The Sequel
Director: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Screenplay:Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Stars: Robert Hays (Ted Striker), Julie Hagerty (Elaine Dickinson), Lloyd Bridges (SteveMcCroskey), Leslie Nielsen (Doctor Rumack), Peter Graves (Capt. Clarence Oveur),Robert Stack (Captain Rex Kramer), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Roger Murdoch), LornaPatterson (Randy), Stephen Stucker (Johnny)
MPAA Rating:PG
Year of Release: 1980
Country: USA
Airplane Poster

Airplane II: The Sequel
Director: Ken Finkleman
Screenplay: Ken Finkleman
Stars: Robert Hays (Ted Striker), Julie Hagerty (Elaine Dickinson), Lloyd Bridges (SteveMcCroskey), Chad Everett (Simon), Peter Graves (Capt. Clarence Oveur), Chuck Connors(The Sarge), William Shatner (Buck Murdock), Raymond Burr (The Judge), John Vernon(Dr. Stone), Stephen Stucker (Jacobs), Sonny Bono (The Bomber)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1982
Country: USA
Airplane II Poster

Having already honed and perfected their unique brand of guerilla comedy in theirlong-running Kentucky Fried Theater and 1977's The Kentucky Fried Movie(which was directed by John Landis), it was finally time for the ZAZ team (brothers Davidand Jerry Zucker and their childhood friend Jim Abrahams) to make their ownfeature-length movie. The possibility of pulling it off seemed slim, as they were workingwith a slim budget, and their previous attempt at lengthy comedy, the "Fistful of Yen"segment in The Kentucky Fried Movie, was the weakest part of that movie.

Yet, with Airplane! they scored a huge success. An ingenuous parody ofhigh-concept disaster movies like Zero Hour (1957), Airport (1970),Terror in the Sky (1971), and Airport 1975 (1975), Airplane! is anonstop assault of sight gags, silly verbal puns, and movie references. Although this kind ofcomedy has become de rigueur since then, its over-the-top gusto was somethingentirely new in 1980, and audiences ate it up.

The plotline is typical of airline disaster movies: A flight from L.A. to Chicago, populatedwith an eclectic mix of American types, seems destined for tragedy when food poisoningbrings half of the passengers to the brink of death, including the two pilots and thenavigator. In a hokey, melodramatic turn, one of the passengers, Ted Striker (Robert Hays),is a war pilot who has not been able to get over a failed mission that killed his entiresquadron. He is on the plane because he followed his girlfriend, stewardess ElaineDickinson (Julie Hagerty), who is trying to leave him after becoming fed up with his lack ofresponsibility and inability to hold a job.

The key to Airplane!'s success is the ways Abrahams, Zucker, and Zucker workwithin the accepted boundaries of the disaster genre to create the laughs. Some of thescenes are played ludicrously straight, such as the big confrontation scene between Ted andElaine in the airport at the beginning of the film in which she explains her inability to staywith him and he keeps pleading that he can change while the tragic, romantic music swellsin the background. The dialogue is right out of any Irwin Allen Grand Hotel-likedisaster flick, but the ZAZ team give it their unique spin by tacking on an unexpectedpunchline.

They pull a real coup by getting well-known actors to fill the various roles, which gives themovie a legitimate feel, but also works comedically. Thus, seeing Leslie Nielsen, then aserious actor known mainly for playing authority figures in the '50s and '60s, playing theridiculously serious Dr. Rumack, gives the role an added edge. His lines are funny, butthey're funnier because it's Leslie Nielsen delivering them in his deadpan style.

The same goes for Peter Graves, who is described in Baseline's Encyclopedia ofFilm as having "made a long career out of being stolidly dignified and competent." AsCaptain Clarence Oveur, he is exactly the opposite, especially as he is given to saying themost incredibly inappropriate things to children. Lloyd Bridges, trading on his tough-guypersona in Westerns and the TV series Sea Hunt plays the chain-smoking,hard-drinking, amphetamine-taking, glue-sniffing airport controller Steve McCroskey togrizzled perfection. However, perhaps best of all is the eternally serious and grave-voicedRobert Stack (best known for playing Eliot Ness in the TV series TheUntouchables) as Captain Rex Kramer, one of Striker's old war pilots who is broughtin to help him land the plane.

Airplane! grabs you from the opening moments and doesn't let up for 90 minutes.The best jokes come from the way the ZAZ team takes the familiar and twists it justenough to become outrageous. They seem especially giddy in using children and elderlywomen as the butt of jokes, as well as filling the background with all kinds of unexpectedsight gags, many of which you don't pick up without multiple viewings. They turn airportrecordings about parking zones into a battle over abortion, they manage to work EthelMerman into a joke inside a mental institution, and they exploit language conventions tothe nth degree by constantly allowing for double meanings and unexpected interpretationswhenever a character opens his or her mouth (the best is, of course: "Surely, you can't beserious." "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.").

As unlikely as it was, Airplane! became a huge hit and is now considered a comedyclassic (the American Film Institute listed it in the top 10 of their 100 best comedies).Many have tried to emulate its brand of humor, including several later attempts by variousmembers of the ZAZ team, but none of them have quite reached Airplane!'s level.

This, of course, includes the 1982 sequel, aptly titled Airplane II: TheSequel. None of the ZAZ team were associated, even as producers. Rather,first-time writer/director Ken Finkleman took control, crafting a funny, but largelyredundant movie that borrows about fifty percent of its jokes from the first movie,recycling them quite literally. Hays and Hagerty return to their roles as Striker and Elaine,and the plot is basically run through a second time, except with a science fiction twist thatallows for some amusing parodies of Star Wars (1977) and 2001: A SpaceOdyssey (1968).

This time around, it's not an airplane that is in trouble, but the first lunar shuttle takingpeople to a new base on the moon. Obviously, this story takes place some two decadesafter the events in Airpane!, but of course no one has aged. Peter Graves returns asCaptain Oveur, and rather than he and his crew getting food poisoning, they are eitherejected from the shuttle or gassed by R.O.K., the ship's malfunctioning computer thatsounds an awful lot like H.A.L. from 2001 (Finkleman names one of the co-pilotsDave just so R.O.K. can ask at one point, "What are you doing, Dave?").

Finkleman, whose writing credits include the awful Grease 2 (1982) and the evenmore awful Madonna screwball comedy Who's That Girl? (1987), does a good jobfollowing in the ZAZ footsteps, even if he doesn't have much that is new to offer. Theonly notable moments involve his more abstract sense of bizarre comedy, such as whenStriker escapes from a mental institution and runs past a man dressed in a full suit with amicrophone, standing in a spotlight singing the theme song to The Love Boat.Why? Why not.

Airplane II: The Sequel has its share of belly laughs, even when William Shatnercomes in late in the movie and hams it up in a similar role to the one Robert Stack played.The movie as a whole has a quick, thrown-together feel, and when it works, it workslargely on our fond memories of the first movie.

Airplane! andAirplane II: The Sequel DVDs
Airplane and Airplane II: The Sequel aresold as separate DVDs, each with a SRP of $29.99.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural (French)
Airplane II
Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural (English, French)
Audio commentary by producer Jon Davidson and writer/directors Jim Abrahams, DavidZucker, and Jerry Zucker
Original theatrical trailer
Airplane II

Presented for the first time on home video in their original1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, this new anamorphic transfers for both Airplane! andAirplane II look very good. Airplane! was a fairly low-budget film, and itshows from time to time in the image quality, which is a bit soft. However, detail level isstill high (which helps you find all the sight gags in the background), and colors looksstrong, with good saturation and natural flesh tones. There is a slight bit of graininess fromtime to time, especially in the night scenes. However, overall this is an excellent transfer ofa 20-year-old movie. Airplane II has a slightly better picture that is a little bitsharper overall.

Airplane!'s original monaural soundtrack has beengiven the Dolby Digital 5.1. treatment to good effect. The dialogue and much of the actionis still relegated to the front soundstage, but Elmer Bernstein's perfectly pitched music (itsounds exactly like a disaster-flick score) is expanded nicely into all five speakers. Thesound effects are also given some additional impact, but there is very little in the way oflow-frequency effects. Airplane II maintains its original one-channel mono, but itstill sounds excellent.

The Airplane! DVD features a running audiocommentary with producer Jon Davidson and writer/directors Jim Abrahams, DavidZucker, and Jerry Zucker. If you've heard their commentaries on the Naked GunDVDs, you know roughly what to expect: a laid-back, enjoyable, and sometimes freneticgroup discussion that often devolves into all four of them trying to talk over each other.Listening to them discuss the movie is often as funny as the movie itself. They make a lotof jokes, feeling no shame in pointing out the movie's many gaffes and less-than-stellarspecial effects. The informative aspect of the commentary is somewhat limited, but theygive some nice anecdotes about the production (notable is their insistence that their perfectparody of From Here to Eternity's famous beach love scene was not intended). Thedisc also includes the original theatrical trailer, which is presented in anamorphicwidescreen.

The Airplane II DVD has no supplements.

�2000 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (3.5)

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