Alan Smithee Podcast 58: Airplane! (1980, Jim Abrahams & David Zucker & Jerry Zucker) / Airplane II: The Sequel (1982, Ken Finkleman)


Airplane! did not invent the parody genre, but ushered in a new era which lasted nearly 20 years before indbreeding with the “_____ Movie” series. Jeff Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker – ZAZ to their fans – would reach their peak with the Naked Gun trilogy, starring Leslie Nielsen, and peppered the 80s with other genre spoofs while inspiring countless imitators. Airplane! was their first hiring of Nielsen, whom along with the rest of the supporting cast was not from a comedy background. Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves and Robert Stack all evidently were adroit at self-parody and ready in their careers to do it. Stack actually beat the rest of them to the punch the previous year with Spielberg’s 1941. Their commitment to straight faced silliness is the quantum leap from previously silly feature length film parodies, which were pretty few and far in between to begin with. Coupled with ZAZ’s rapid fire pace of jokes of all kinds ranging from tasteless shock gags to groanworthy wordplay, there’s something silly in Airplane! for everybody.

The film’s longevity is as epochal as our own culture’s inward decay. The genre context of the 1970s which Airplane! was based on is as distant to modern attitudes the 1950s thriller fodder ZAZ remembered the supporting cast from. Leslie Nielson is the focal point of the film by way of being referenced on The Office and An Alan Smithee Podcast’s least favorite film critic Roger Ebert’s deeming him “The Olivier of Spoofs” in his review of Jerry Zucker’s unfortunate Scary Movie 3. Obviously we are now in the decadent phase where all culture that could be parodied is a self-parody or ironically bad or copied on Family Guy and re-edited on Youtube. As George W.S. Trow wrote, after chronicling the unraveling of existing context, we will establish the context of no-context and chronicle that.

Airplane II: The Sequel is not an awful film, but the lack of immediate continuance in the sequel-heavy 80s is indicative of either higher standards for low comedy than we have in the wake of Scary Movie 4, or a lack of standards for the nascent subgenre of parodies and spoofs. ZAZ disowned the film, and have since done worse.

Besides being completely pointless, writer-director Ken Finkleman brings nothing new besides the ultimately irrelevant (but trendy) replacement of the airplane with a space shuttle bound through space for the moon. Science Fiction parody is gently brushed against once or twice and never again, probably since producer Howard W. Koch was already nervous that ZAZ abandoned him and didn’t want Finkleman to deviate too much from whatever it was worked the first time. Thus returning are Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty as the stars plus Bridges and Graves. The rest of the supporting cast is admirably chosen for their previously serious or at least mostly-serious careers, like Rip Torn and Chuck Conners, yet they’re underutilized or misused. William Shatner does catapult the movie into solid mediocrity by giving a then-rare comedic turn in the final act.

The returning cast is pressed on to repeat their jokes from the first film, as if Airplane II: The Sequel can be a parody of a parody. In this navel-gaving Finkleman might have been a bit ahead of his time. A few good jokes here and there, but with so many that’s to be expected. Airplane II: The Sequel is a waste of effort to watch, except for Shatner, and when that’s the best recommendation you know something stinks.