Stop calling me Shirley!
Spoof movies are not new but in the last decade there seems to be a new one cropping up every other year. There was the "Scary Movie" spoofs and then the likes of "Date Movie" and "Not Another Teen Movie" to name just a couple but to be honest they were weak and often crass especially in comparison to the brilliant "Airplane!". Released in 1980 and coming from the minds and pens of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker "Airplane!" is probably the best spoof movie ever made, trawling the disaster movies of the 70s to create something insanely funny and insanely stupid. It may now be 30 years old but the laughs are just as good now as they were when first released.
Desperately in love with stewardess Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty), Ted Striker (Robert Hays) plucks up the courage to board her plane in the hope of winning her back. But it's not easy as ever since an accident during the war Ted has had an aversion to flying. But it's a good job Ted is on board as midway across America the crew and many of the passengers are struck down with some deadly food bug and only Striker can save the day, that is if he can get over his fears.
For anyone who has watched the disaster movies of the 70's in particular the "Airport" movies which were adapted from Arthur Hailey's novel will instantly recognize where Abrahams, Zucker and Zucker got their inspiration from. In fact the last of the "Airport" movies was so funny that "Airplane!" feels like a perfect follow on. But whilst inspired from the "Airport" movies and featuring a storyline about a plane heading for disaster the whole purpose of "Airplane!" is not to give us an exciting movie which grips you with tension and danger, it's a spoof movie, a satire on disaster movies.
What this means is that "Airplane!" is a movie full of comedy, in fact whilst it's only 88 minutes long it feels so much longer because ever minute packs at least one laugh and we are talking from the opening credits with a brilliant Jaw's inspired scene. It's easy to pack in comedy but what makes "Airplane!" so good is that its relevant comedy and where it's not relevant it's made relevant. What I mean is a scene which sees a woman being slapped by a line of passengers is daft, but in the context of a hysterical passenger it works. And that is part of why the comedy works it manages to make set piece gags feel like they are part of the movie rather than just thrown in for effect.
It also helps that the comedy is both imaginative and risque. When the pilots are taken ill they switch on the autopilot which turns out be an inflatable pilot, who when he starts to deflate needs blowing up and you can guess where the pipe is to blow on! It's this sort of humour, juvenile mixed with imaginative which makes so many of the jokes work, such as the clever Roger Roger, victor Vector dialogue from the cockpit. But some jokes don't, some jokes go a little too far to try and get a laugh but for the most "Airplane!" fires on all cylinders when it comes to the humour.
On top of the clever writing the casting is spot on with the likes of Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar all putting in fun performances. Although for me the star is Leslie Nielson whose dead pan delivery of some brilliant one liners is what makes many of the jokes work including the famous "Stop calling me Shirley" line. But whilst for me Nielson is the star not a single person does anything bad, even the supporting cast including the sick child on the stretcher deliver their lines brilliantly generating the laughs desired.
What this all boils down to is that even 30 years later "Airplane!" is still one of the best if not the best spoof movie. It manages to cram in so many laughs but somehow make even the most orchestrated set piece gag feel like its part of the movie rather than thrown in purely because the writers thought it was good. And add to this a wonderful cast who manage to deliver all this comedy in such a dead pan manner that there is barely a minute, a single scene which doesn't pack a laugh or two.