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Airplane! (1980)

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997

An endlessly inventive spoof of the airport disaster-movie genre, Airplane! is great schoolboy fun. Opening in an airport, of course, Ted Striker (Robert Hays) is desperately trying to reach his girlfriend Elaine (Julie Hagerty), who's a stewardess. She's just left him after many years of frustration, all caused by his reluctance to get over his wartime experiences. Running the gamut of religious freaks, Striker finds her only to be told that she really is leaving him for good this time. In the background various wacky events are taking place, such as Capt. Oveur (Peter Graves) karate-chopping his way through the flower-giving hordes or the war of words taking place between two tannoy announcers. It's a strange airport! Striker realises that he's just got to talk to Elaine, even though it means overcoming his long-standing fear of flying (he hasn't been in a plane since the war). So he buys a ticket for the smoking section and, you guessed it, the ticket's smoking!

On board the passengers, who range from a critically ill girl to a nun who reads "Boy's Own" magazine, are settling down for the routine flight. Striker gets talking to the old lady sat next to him, taking us back to the time he met Elaine. In an inspired Saturday Night Fever take-off, Striker is having a quiet drink in the roughest bar in town (so wild that even Girl Guides start fist fights) and standing out like a beacon in his spotless, white Top Gun uniform. Suddenly that disco record ("Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees) hits the jukebox and Striker is on the dance-floor, wooing Elaine with his seriously sexy dancing. This is a purely magical sequence to watch. However, the old lady doesn't think so and has hung herself by the time Striker finishes (the start of a long trend as his neighbours commit hari-kari rather than enduring more depressing monologues).

There's trouble brewing up ahead though as the in-flight meals get served. Choose the fish and within seconds you're holding onto that sick-bag for dear life, as most of the passengers find out. Unfortunately Capt. Oveur and his flight crew all fancied the same thing, leaving the plane pilotless. The autopilot's good temporarily (leading to a whole set of toilet-level jokes) but Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) and Elaine have got to find someone to carry out the landing. It looks as though it's all up to Striker but can he overcome his personal demons, save the passengers and win back the love of Elaine?

Why is Airplane! so funny when most of the jokes are corny, lines predictable and slapstick amateurish? Maybe its because the real disaster movies just take themselves so seriously, packing their screen-time with a cast of oddball characters and enough plot-lines to keep a soap opera going for months? These films are just crying out to be parodied and Airplane! hits all of the required spots. The cast keep perfectly deadpan faces when all sorts of mayhem is taking place around them (particularly Nielsen), which just makes it all the more amusing. Sure there are moments when the puns fall flat, particularly when once topical references are made, but who cares? This is a movie which sweeps you along on a tide of groans and laughs, in equal measure. Even better, Airplane! improves on successive showings because you know what to expect and feed on the anticipation.

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