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Airplane! Movie Review

stryker robert zucker bridges

1980 – Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker –

High comedy? Not hardly. If you relish the sophistications of the later Woody Allen, you may not like Airplane!. But if you enjoy a good time, like to laugh so hard it brings tears to your eyes, and want a movie so silly it will help you escape the drudgery of everyday life, this might just be your cinematic experience.

Airplane! is about a shell-shocked pilot, Ted Stryker (Robert Hays), who has lost his self-confidence and his girlfriend (Julie Hagerty). She is now a stewardess for an airline and is scheduled to make a flight to Chicago; he boards the flight so that he might have a chance to win her back. Nearly everyone onboard succumbs to food poisoning, including the pilot and co-pilot (Peter Graves and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and Stryker has to land the plane against all odds. But this premise is a mere excuse for a barrage of jokes of every kind.

What makes Airplane! a comic epic? First, it spoofs the epic pretensions of several films (some of them disaster movies), such as Airport, Jaws, Silver Streak, From Here to Eternity, Knute Rockne, All American, and Saturday Night Fever. Second, it spawned a series of movies that depend on the same ridiculous dialogue and silly but clever sight gags to induce laughter: Airplane II: The Sequel, the Naked Gun films, Top Secret, both Hot Shots movies, Spyhard, and even Dumb and Dumber. That's quite a legacy.

Before Airplane!, who knew Leslie Nielsen was all that funny? He mostly played bad guys in cheap westerns, suited-up, young professionals, and sometimes serious authority figures. (His work in Airplane! is so good that it makes some of his earlier, over-serious acting—like the parts of the captains in The Poseidon Adventure and Forbidden Planet now seem funny in retrospect.) Airplane! got Nielsen much recognition as a comedic actor, as it did for Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges, both of whom are superb in the film. It's pretty funny to imagine all of the things McCroskey (Bridges) picked the wrong week to try to stop doing.

Most of the fun comes from the pace, which will probably require multiple viewings in order to catch all of the parodies and gags. Watch for the scene about Stryker's drinking problem and what people do who are trapped into listening to his story. And pay close attention to the closing credits. They're good for a few laughs, too.

Airplane II: The Sequel loses some of the original cast, most of the inspiration, and all of the original directors, but it picks up good performances from Chad Everett, Chuck Connors, Sonny Bono, and William Shatner. It's about the first passenger space shuttle to the moon. Bono is the crazy guy with the bomb on board.

Cast: Robert Hays (Ted Stryker), Julie Hagerty (Elaine Dickinson), Lloyd Bridges (McCroskey), Leslie Nielsen (Doctor Rumack), Peter Graves (Captain Clarence Oveur), Robert Stack (Kramer), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Roger Murdock), Lorna Patterson (Randy), Stephen Stucker (Johnny), Frank Ashmore (Victor Basta), Barbara Billingsley (Jive Lady), Rossie Harris (Joey), Ethel Merman (Lieutenant Herwitz) Screenwriter: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker Cinematographer: Joseph F. Biroc Composer: Elmer Bernstein Producer: Jon Davidson and Howard W. Koch Jr. for Paramount MPAA Rating: PG Running Time: 88 minutes Format: VHS, LV Box Office: $83.4M (gross).

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