Runtime: 1 Hour
and 28 Minutes
A few weeks back, the American Film Institute released its One Hundred
Funniest Comedies of all time list, which I generally believed to
be a travesty. How can the two funniest films of all time involve
men having to dress like women? You're telling me that this is the
funniest idea ever committed to film? Please!
Not only that, but who the hell can determine what is THE single funniest
film ever made. One person may laugh hysterically each time they see
Another may piss their pants just thinking about the hair gel scene
in "There's Something About Mary". I personally laugh at
every single joke in the movie "Ghostbusters",
even the ones that others sit stone-faced through.
But who can say if any of them are the funniest. I mean, come on now!
Sense of humor is up to personal taste. I can handle a critic or a
person citing his or her own ten or twenty funniest films (hmmmm,
there's an idea for an essay list) but leaving it up to a corporation?
A large group? The film authority? Such an idea is ludicrous.
But, on the bright side, the list did remind me of "Airplane".
Ever since that list came out, "Airplane" returned to my
head and demanded to be seen. I hadn't given it a thought in years,
yet here I was with a yen to see it again. Lines like "What's
your vector, Victor?" and "Don't call me Shirley" suddenly
began popping into my head. And when that sort of thing happens, there
is only one way to exorcise the demons. You have to sit down and watch
the movie as soon as possible.
I couldn't find it in any of the rental stores in town. That alone
should tell you what a joke these places are. It wasn't on DVD (although
it damn well should be, PARAMOUNT!! Get off your ass already!) and
the only copy I could find of it was hideously overpriced. So I went
to my friend Dave, who just happens to own the entire Zucker Brothers
ouevre on videocassette and had a copy of this classic lying around.
Yes, I just used the word classic. Yes, to describe "Airplane".
Not all classics have to look like "The
Bridge on the River Kwai" or "Casablanca". Some
of them can be fun, inventive, unlike anything done before it, and
downright silly. Some of them can also be quite hilarious, which "Airplane"
most certainly is.
If you balk at my definition of this movie, perhaps it is high time
you saw it again. The jokes are surprisingly fresh, which is the litmus
test of any great comedy. Some of them are funny at the time of release,
but grow stale over the passing of a couple of years. A lot of comedy
depends on currency for its laughs. But the classic comedies, the
ones that endure and even grow funnier the more often that you see
them, they need no currency. You don't need to be familiar with the
time period. You don't have to be in a certain state of mind. All
you have to be is ready to laugh. And, in the case of "Airplane",
laugh your ass off.
Sure, you know the plot. It's the same as all the plots of all those
lame 70's disaster movies. The ones where has-been actors ran around
and said things like "We've only got two hours before the crash".
Everyone in those disaster movies seemed to know the precise timeline
to disaster. Well, after all, they had read the script. "Airplane"
is familiar with this cliche, and with many others. That is its specific
genius. Sure, it makes fun of scenes from certain movies that came
before it, but most of all it makes fun of the cliches of its genre.
It takes the whole genre of disaster filmmaking and puts a sharp needle
right through the middle of its balloon.
Another stroke of genius on the part of the Zuckers: the cast consists
of the same, has-been actors that might have been and probably were
in those overly serious disaster films. Actors like Lloyd Bridges,
Leslie Nielsen (before he was supposed to be funny), and Robert Stack.
They all have great fun with their images and with the movie itself.
And why not? They had nothing better to do. Because of their "what
the hell" attitude, their careers saw a quick rejuvenation because
of this movie. They were hot again, and all because they had fun with
their serious images. This lends a deadpan lunacy to the film that
the casting of comic actors would likely not have.
By the way, have you ever noticed that most of the greats when it
comes to comedy are teams of brothers? The Coens, the Marx Brothers,
the Farrellys? I wonder what that is all about? Well, the Zucker Brothers
(and their partner in crime Jim Abrahams) were no different. "Airplane"
was the first of its kind. An infinitely silly masterpiece that delivered
more wit, more panache, more jokes per second than any of its predecessors.
It gave comedy film a much needed shot in the arm by taking the work
of Mel Brooks and putting it on crack, basically. It's still bold,
daring and nothing less than hilarious. Every shot is packed with
jokes, so many that it would be impossible to spot them all the first
time around. Watch the subtitles on all the "No Smoking"
and "Fasten Seatbelts" signs. Check on the wall behind the
doctor at the Mayo Clinic. And in a dozen other places too numerous
Surely, this is one of the greatest comedies of all time.
And, in my opinion, it beats the living hell out of "Tootsie".