Airplane! (1980)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Absurd Comedy, Parody/Spoof, Ensemble Film  |   Run Time - 86 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Mark Deming

Any fool can tell a long succession of dumb jokes, but it requires a special gift to toss 'em off with the fleet-footed élan and rapid-fire precision that the writing/directing team of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker achieve in Airplane! No pun is too silly, no gag is too obvious, and no stunt is too tasteless for these men, as long as someone will laugh at it. Unlike the many filmmakers who followed this film's path, the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team understood the notion of context, and if Airplane!'s narrative isn't especially fresh or original (since it's a parody, that's probably the point), it's sturdy enough to hold the pieces together and collect the myriad clichés of disaster films in a confined space so they can be efficiently picked off, one by one. And they had the foresight to cast a host of familiar faces in key supporting roles; after years of seeing the likes of Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, and Peter Graves in second-rate TV disaster epics, watching a stone-faced Graves ask a young boy if he likes gladiator movies or hard-as-nails air traffic controller Bridges announce that he picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue gave gags that were already funny a surreal dimension that doubled the kick. Anyone who thinks making a film this funny is simple ought to take a look at the unfortunate Airplane II: The Sequel for a quick reality check on how Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker made high art out of low comedy.