BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – Airplane! (1980)

Seriously, you can’t be reviewing a movie this old, BQB.

Yes, I am…and don’t call me Shirley.

A review? What is it? It’s a summary and commentary of a feature film, but that’s not important right now.

This is one of those movies that a child of the 1980s knows by heart. Growing up, even well into the 90s and early 2000s, it was on TV all the time. You’d catch bits and pieces of it and have a good laugh. It really is a silly masterpiece, the likes of which had never been seen before, and will undoubtedly ever be seen again. Many have tried, but the team of the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams were a one of a kind trio. They went on to more success with Leslie Nielsen in the Naked Gun series as well as the Top Gun parody Hot Shots. Others would go on to try parody movies that would only fizzle. A number of parody flicks released in the 2000s by lesser talents were so God awful that the parody genre pretty much died out in that decade.

What is a parody? Take an established film and give it a mocking re-write. Throw in as much mocking as you can about other movies and or subjects as you can. The uninitiated may not be aware that Airplane is itself, a parody of the 1957 film Zero Hour! That film’s legit plot was about ex-WWII pilot Ted Stryker, called upon to make a split second decision that got a lot of his fellow pilots killed. Years later, he is torn apart and wracked by guilt, unable to function, often fired from several jobs. His wife, Ellen, an airline stewardess, dumps him with a note, saying she will start a new life in a new city her airline job will deliver her to. Ted buys a ticket and hops aboard, hoping to beg her for one last chance. The crew and pilots get sick from food poisoning. Ted is the only one who has flown and must land the plane. He does so while being talked down by an ex air force colleague who hates his guts over his war mistake. In the end, Ted lands the plane, is redeemed, loved by his wife and can move on to a happier life.

Airplane! is literally that same movie, except with lots of shenanigans and silliness. In fact, I believe the rights to Zero Hour! were bought just so ZAZ could make a silly re-do for Paramount.

Don’t call me Shirley. I take my coffee black like my men. Jim never orders a second cup of coffee at home. Stewardess, I speak jive. The list of hilarious jokes goes on and on. So memorable. So quotable. And yet, sitting down and watching it from beginning to end, I hadn’t done that in a long time. Even the lesser known jokes and bits are pretty hysterical. It is a laugh riot.

And it brought back memories. Sigh. Oh, as a little kid I really loved comedy and hoped maybe I’d be a comedian one day. I worshipped ZAZ, between Airplane and the Naked Gun, to the point where I tracked down a copy of their first foray, the lesser known Kentucky Fried Movie. Not their best, but they were just getting started. Basically just a series of dumb sketches tied together.

Eh, but I grew up. Went the so-called practical route. I say so-called because the practical route was supposed to be easier yet nothing in life is easy so the older I get, the more I wonder if it all just isn’t a crap shoot and if it’s hard to make a living as a ditch digger or an accountant or a bus driver or a teacher or a cop or a pharmacist or a podiatrist or what have you then you might as well do what you love and try to find a job in the silly movie game.

But that ship has long sailed. At least I have my silly blog.

Cue the obligatory, “Oh, this movie would never be made today in these woke times” rant.

Nope, it wouldn’t. First, there are naked gratuitous titties. In one scene where the passengers flip out and run around the plane going nuts, a woman runs by for a close up of her jiggly bosoms. Harvey Weinstein’s evil doings put an end to that. Harvey was a sex fiend for 30 years so now every director in Tinsel Town is afraid to ask an actress to take her top off. You’ll never see a set of nude sweater puppets on film ever again. Thanks Harvey. Jackass.

Second, there’s the funny scene when the woman flips out. Starts shouting, “I gotta get outta here!” One person slaps her. The next shakes her. Suddenly, there’s a long line of people brandishing weapons waiting for their turn to torture her. I never really saw this as a joke about abusing women. ZAZ pokes fun at movie tropes throughout this flick, and here they are mocking the movie trope where someone freaks out, so another person slaps them or shakes them and yells at them to calm down. I mean, seriously, is that really the best move? Someone is cracking under pressure, I don’t think smacking them would really help. It’s like no one who ever wrote a movie thought that if a person is flipping out, maybe you ought to put your arm around them and say, “There, there. It’ll all be OK.” But no. Every character in movie world is somehow trained to see a person suffering a panic attack and sock them in the jaw like they’re a wannabe Sugar Ray Leonard.

There’s the sick little girl who makes funny faces, near death because the stewardess playing a song to cheer her up on the guitar keeps accidentally slapping out her IV whenever she moves the guitar around. That would be seen as ableist hate speech now.

Don’t even get me started on the scene where Ted joins the peace corps, visits a tribe in Africa, hands them a basketball and the tribesmen start dribbling and dunking with the skill of the best NBA players.

Stewardess, do you have any light reading? How about this one page leaflet? Famous Jewish Sports Legends.

The Jive guys speaking Jive like it is a foreign language with subtitles.

Sigh. Jokes that would never make the cut today. I suppose we can debate whether or not that’s a good thing. As I watch the film, I get the sense that here is an airplane full of people of all different races, colors, creeds, religions, backgrounds, ages. They all came together to survive a doomed flight, and the ZAZ team made fun of everyone, not in an attempt to be mean, but maybe just maybe in the sense that if we can learn to laugh with (and not at) each other, then maybe we can learn to get along.

Gotta be honest though. When I was a kid, I just thought the pilot asking the boy if he’d ever seen gladiator movies was just a strange, silly man. Today as an adult I realize, yeah the joke is that the pilot is a sex pervert attempting to “groom” the boy. Sigh. Parents, keep your kids away from adult men who like gladiator movies.

Bonus points that the film took known Hollywood tough guys like Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Nielsen and Peter Graves and got them to basically do their same tough guy schtick, but while delivering silly lines in their tough guy style. Leslie Nielsen, long a serious actor, would go on to a longer second act as a comic actor due to this film.

Double bonus points for Julie Haggerty. She really is the perfect combination of beautiful and sweet. Maybe it’s just the character she is playing, yet deep down every man wants a wife who is beautiful yet kind. Often times in our society, the beautiful don’t have any reason to be kind. Eh, then again, there are a lot of mean ugly people too.

At any rate, there’s a scene where Ted (Robert Hayes) is in the hospital after the war and he does a spit take. Julie just sort of takes a gallon of spit to her face, shakes her hands and cringes like she expected it (not that she knew the spit was coming as an actress but that her character knew this was what Ted was like so knew the spit was coming) and just goes right on talking. Hard to explain. You just have to watch it.

BTW, I can’t count the number of times when I or another kid I knew growing up would pretend to have hard time drinking a glass of water and be like, “Ha ha! I have a drinking problem!”

STATUS: Worthy of the highest shelf! I can’t go on long enough about how great this film is and how it inspired me as a kid, even inspires me today. We will never see its like again, not just because the ZAZ team thought they could never top it, and not because of how many wannabes tried and failed, but alas, these jokes are out of style.

Surely, we can debate long and hard over whether that’s a good thing…and don’t call me Shirley.

Catch it on HBOMax.

SIDENOTE: Woke problems aside, there’s also the issue of audiences being less willing to suspend disbelief and less appreciative of good humor. So many of the jokes are just word play. The running joke is someone says something, the other says what is it, the first gives a definition but that’s not important now.

Stewardess – there’s a problem in the cockpit.

Ted – The cockpit? What is it?

Stewardess – its the little room at the front of the plane where the pilots sit, but that’s not important now.

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7 thoughts on “BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – Airplane! (1980)

  1. Chel Owens says:

    See… maybe you could also acknowledge that this humor isn’t comic gold for everyone, not just because of woke culture but also because it’s low-brow and annoying. Shirley, you can see that.

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