Review: Airplane! (1980)

754a5-airplane2In the wake of Jaws came another film almost just as riveting in its intense thrills and human drama. Let’s hear it for Airplane! Okay, well it may be the farthest thing from a real melodrama, but that does not take away from the good ol’ fashioned fun of it all. It’s quirky. It’s goofy. And it has the prototypical ZAZ humor laden with sight gags and boatloads of puns with an accompanying score courtesy of everyone’s favorite comic composer Elmer Bernstein.

The faux drama stems from former war pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays), who has an aversion to flying due to his devastating experiences and a drinking problem to boot. Now all he does is drive a taxi, and it has cost him his love, the airline stewardess Elaine (Julie Hagerty), who lost all faith in him because he lost confidence in himself. Things used to be so marvelous when they first met in the throes of romance and yet…

Who am I kidding? This film hardly has any plot, but instead, it’s one big excuse for often childish, sometimes innuendo-filled, off the wall antics. Seriously though, Airplane! rifts off a lot of things from gushy romances, to disaster films, and old Hollywood serials. But this plane is only a vehicle for gags. There’s a whole scene about a little girl who is deathly ill just so Captain Oveur (Peter Graves) can say over the telephone resolutely, “Give me ham on five hold the mayo.”

Then there’s co-pilot Kareem Abdul-Jabbar moonlighting as Roger Murdoch. He eventually breaks out of character following the nagging of a little boy named Joey (You try dragging Walton and Lanier down the court)! Why is he even in this film? We don’t know and it doesn’t matter because it’s hilarious.

There’s a kiss parodied straight out of From Here to Eternity, an appearance by the always loud-mouthed Ethel Merman, and even a jab at incumbent president Ronald Reagan. And of course who else would know how to speak jive with the two African-American passengers but June Cleaver or Barbara Billingsley? I’m not sure which one is funnier.

What stands out most about this film is all of its old vets playing this insanely wacky film straight. From Peter Graves to Leslie Nielsen on the plane, to Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges down in the tower, their performances are priceless.

By the way, what ever happened to that guy in the taxi? If I’m not mistaken the meter’s still running.

4/5 Stars

“We have clearance, Clarence.”
“Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?”

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