“I take it black, like my men.”
It's a shame I never got to see this hilarious film sooner because Airplane! has been influencing comedies over the past 35 years now, and many spoof films have borrowed heavily from it. However I still managed to find the jokes quite refreshing and there are many quotable lines here. Just thinking about the best quotes in the movie bring a smile back to my face. The trio of directors and writers, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, often referred to as the ZAZ team, deliver a witty and highly quotable film. They went on to direct seperate films as well and they each proved to be incredibly talented. Their greatest accomplishment was taking serious actors and trusting in them to deliver dead pan humor. No one did this better than Leslie Neeson who reinvented his career after this and is now remembered by everyone for his spoof films. He was a perfect fit for the material and no one could deliver the ZAZ's ridiculous lines better than he did. Airplane! is a spoof film of disaster movies that is so cleverly written and well directed that it's hard to believe that now more than 30 years later it is still leagues better than any modern spoof comedy. The film didn’t have to worry about being politically correct and there were many jokes that no studio would dare to put into their films now.
Ted Striker (Robert Hays) is an ex-Air Force pilot who has been afraid of flying ever since he suffered a terrible accident. His girlfriend, Elaine (Julie Hagerty), has decided to end their relationship because he is not going anywhere in life. She breaks the news to him right before boarding a flight as part of the crew. Desperate to win her back, Ted faces his fears and decides to get on board the flight as well. In mid air several of the passengers begin to feel ill from food poisoning, including the pilots, Captain Oveur (Peter Graves) and Murdock (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Dr. Rumack (Leslie Neeson) is in the flight as well so he is asked to treat the ill passengers. With no pilot remaining, Elaine asks Ted to save everyone on board. With the help of McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) giving instructions from the control room, Ted will have to confront his fears in order to safely land the plane and save everyones lives.
The film does take a while to take off as it slowly introduces some of the characters including the Ted and Elaine relationship. It's not until Neeson appears on screen that the comedy really hits on all cylinders. He has great chemistry with Bridges and Hays so getting to see the three of them deliver their serious dead pan humor was a treat. Abrahams went on to work with Bridges in the Hot Shots movies, which also ranks as one of the better examples of spoof films, while David Zucker had tremendous success working alongside Neeson in The Naked Gun franchise. Jerry Zucker didn’t have the same success with comedies, but he directed the widely beloved romantic film, Ghost. So all three directors proved their worth after the huge success in Airplane! but they also have had success in their individual projects as well. However there is no doubt that their contribution for this film laid the groundworks for what was yet to come and hopefully modern spoof films can find inspiration once again from their work. The genre seems to be dead right now, but what a revival Airplane! was for the genre in the 80’s and 90’s.