FILM (1980)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am


Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen
Directors: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker

If you're going to exclaim about anything, a plane that loses its aircrew to a virus caused by eating dodgy fish is a pretty good reason to.

The punctuated title of this classic spoof comedy lets viewers know what they're in for - a ridiculous satire about impending disaster, which of course is averted. The storyline may involve fish, but movies don't come much cheesier, with forced acting, diabolical dialogue and a repository of visual and verbal horseplay.

It's a parody of the disaster movie genre of the 1970s, which took off with Airport in 1970 and gave us The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, and Airport 1975. However, the main prototype for Airplane! was Zero Hour, a 1957 film that provided a near verbatim screenplay for its satirical 1980 replica. Written, with a debt to Murphy's Law, by directors David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams, Airplane! was a soaraway hit, earning sky-rocketing box office returns, multiple award nominations and a reputation that has matured like a fine wine. It continues to make lists of the funniest movies ever made.

So what's all the fuss about? Well, besides the comedy and impending tragedy, there's also romance. Stewardess Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) and former fighter pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) must land the plane safely, but the lovers are going through a bad patch: poor Ted suffers from postwar trauma and Elaine has left him. Now an airport taxi driver, he has rushed to prove his love by overcoming his fear of flying and getting on board with her on the ill-fated flight to Chicago, leaving his taxi and a bewildered passenger behind.

The film is a barrage of outrageous slapstick and deadpan humour: two black men on board only speak 'jive', which is subtitled for the audience, and Captain Clarence Oveur (Peter Graves) is a somewhat less-than-repressed paedophile, his hands frequently wandering off the controls and onto little Joey, who comes to visit the cockpit. Graves' agent at first rejected the script as 'tasteless trash'. Those who share this view probably had the fish.

Airplane! is over-dramatised, over-acted, and overcrowded with jokes and random absurdity. When a coffee-drinking child is asked if she wants cream, she responds: 'I take it black. Like my men.' A little old lady disapproves of alcohol but will happily do lines of cocaine. The symptoms of the food poisoning inflicting the passengers involve eggs, which later hatch, coming out of their mouths. And through all of this, the man in Ted's taxi remains there, wondering what his driver could be up to.

While the movie's tagline may be 'Thank God it's only a motion picture!', many will differ and thank God for this motion picture.