Back in 1976 Paramount made a clever satire on high-budget disaster films. The film was THE BIG BUS and dealt with the maiden voyage of the world's first nuclear-powered super-bus. This film (which incidentally should not be confused with its highly re-edited TV version) took all the cliches of films like AIRPORT and packed them together, giving each a satiric twist, much as AIRPLANE! would do. It is a shame that the film did not get more publicity than it did. Now Paramount seems to have learned their lesson. They have made a similar film called AIRPLANE! and this film they are giving a big publicity campaign. If they have learned their lesson, it seems like it was in time. If THE BIG BUS deserved the publicity, AIRPLANE! deserves it even more. Whatever was good about THE BIG BUS is at most little worse and usually better in AIRPLANE!
After seeing AIRPLANE! I can imagine that the script-writers went over the script for months trying to find new places to stick gags or new ways to turn scenes upside-down (sometimes literally). The publicity says that the film averages a joke every seven seconds. Unfortunately, so much is happening on the screen that the audience often has their attention distracted away from the funniest thing that is going on, and audience laughter drowns out some of the gags in the dialogue. I would estimate that I saw a joke about every twelve seconds, on the average, and only about half of them struck me as funny. Still, one funny gag every 24 seconds is nothing to sneeze at.
To be honest, there is nothing in the film that is all that hysterically funny (well, maybe a few things). But the writer/directors depend on a sheer barrage of humor to break down the viewers' resistance. And the strategy works flawlessly. They used the same strategy in their previous film KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, a movie of dubious taste but nearly as funny as AIRPLANE! The absurdities of AIRPLANE! come thick and fast from brawling girl scouts, to a story so sad that people hearing it keep committing suicide, to the co-pilot (played by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) being recognized as Kareem and having to defend his basketball strategy. At least a dozen films are satirized in the course of AIRPLANE!, including some clever gags at the expense of JAWS, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. There are cameo appearances of such notables as Howard Jarvis and Ethel Merman. All in all, AIRPLANE! is a lot of film packed into its all too scant 88 minutes.
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Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2021 Mark R. Leeper
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