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Airplane! (August 20/02)

Unlike the majority of so-called comedies released nowadays, Airplane! is actually funny. And get this; it doesn't rely on poo-poo jokes or similarly extreme kinds of humor to provoke laughter.

Ostensibly a parody of all those Airport movies from the '70s, Airplane! winds up spoofing a variety of flicks and genres (from blacksploitation to surf films). The underlying plot concerns a former pilot (Robert Hays) who's experience in the war has given him an irrational fear of flying. Though he's just broken up with a stewardess (Julie Hagerty), he follows her to the airport hoping to reconcile and winds up buying a ticket on her next flight. Wackiness and hijinks ensue once onboard, after a virus infects most of the passengers and crew.

The key to the success of Airplane! is the rapid-fire succession of jokes. If you don't find a particular gag funny, another is waiting in the wings to replace it. There are even sequences with a multiple comedy bits going on at the same time. And unlike some of the more recent parody films, such as Dracula: Dead and Loving It or Spy Hard (both of which starred Leslie Nielson; go figure), the majority of the jokes in Airplane! are actually funny. If you like physical comedy, you're taken care of. If you prefer a sense of humor runs more towards the subtle, you're good too. The makers of Airplane! - Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker - are the same guys responsible for the short-lived but hilarious show Police Squad and it's spin-off, The Naked Gun series. Clearly, these are funny dudes.

Right from the opening few minutes, with the bizarre argument between the White Zone voice and the Red Zone voice, the tone is set for silliness. The storyline - with Hays forced to overcome his fear in order to save everyone on board the plane - is merely a clothesline used to hang the variety of jokes and set pieces (bad metaphor, I know, but it gets the point across). There are so many jokes here, and the majority of them work. Really, how can you go wrong with a film that features Leave it to Beaver's Barbara Billingsly as a jive-talking passenger? You can't.

out of

© David Nusair