Sunday, January 30, 2011

MOVIE DAY: And Don't Call Me Shirley!

DISCLAIMER: I sat down to write this as a straight review.  For some movies, I think this is extremely difficult to impossile given the effect said films have had on the world.  AIRPLANE! is one of these films.  What results below is something inbetween a straight review and the gushing of a nostaligic fanboy with a bit of rambling.  But hey, it's my blog and I'll do what I want to!  RR

In 1980, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker collaborated both in the writing and the directing of the mother of all spoof films.  That is not to say that Casino Royale, Dr. Strangelove, and even the Pink Panther series didn't predate AIRPLANE! and didn't have elements of spoofiness.  These other entires, which are all features of extreme enjoyment...are all rooted to some extent in a story that lives and breathes in the real world.

Perhaps the only parallel I can draw for Airplane! in my meager filmgoing life, is that of Mel Brooks.  His films have always been unique in their own right and perhaps are the grandmama to the this whole spoof genre...but Brooks is certainly deserved of his own post.  For now, to the ample breast of the mother...(teeheeheee).

AIRPLANE! began a legacy of spoofing that was born of the disaster films of the 60's and 70's.  Airport, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno...all the craziest aspects of these films, rolled into a film with some of the wackiest dialogue and original comedy in the history of film. 

The cast was sublime and while not a perfectly crisp bit of filmmaking, what it lacks in finesse and refinement is makes up for in physical comedy and suberbly delivered zingers that to this day maintain their sting and bite!

This film defies explaination...I tried, failed, and erased my summation of the plot, as it sounded too ridiculous.  There are many aspects of drama, romance, and terror that could really root this thing in reality like those other films I mentioned above...but it doesn't...not even a little bit.

At no time during a screening of this film will the viewer mistake it for anything that is to be taken seriously.  From the classic opening scene discussion of the merits of parking in the red versus the white zone, this movie grabs you and doesn't let go!

The story is really of no consequence, but it is essentially a zany romance wrapped in a wacky disaster adventure.  Ted Stiker, our hero, is chasing his love, stewardess Elaine Dickinson, into the skies.  She tells him moments before the fateful flight towards Chicago begins, that she is through dealing with his shit and she is leaving him.  Plus, he as a drinking problem :-)

See, any of that above paragraph could be the premise for a drama, romance, etc...but there is not one bit of sound story-telling that matters one bit here.  From Elaine and Ted's meeting to the tune of STAYIN' ALIVE to the intensely hilarious antics of Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, and the rest of the ground support flight controllers...yes, Johnny, even you!...nothing at all matters in terms of sense, because every single line and scene stands on it own.  It would be like a loosely constructed series of skits on just all works.

Can I tell you also, that the co-pilot, Roger Murdock, is AWESOME!  I think Kareem, while perhaps a little wooden in his acting, makes some fantastic cameos...AIRPLANE! for starters and then his bit in FLETCH.  Roger Murdock, finally breaking character: [breaking character] The hell I don't! LISTEN KID! I've been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I'm out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.

Like I said, the dialogue is both classic and hilarious....

Roger Murdock: Flight 2-0-9'er, you are cleared for take-off.
Captain Oveur: Roger!
Roger Murdock: Huh?
Tower voice: L.A. departure frequency, 123 point 9'er.
Captain Oveur: Roger!
Roger Murdock: Huh?
Victor Basta: Request vector, over.
Captain Oveur: What?
Tower voice: Flight 2-0-9'er cleared for vector 324.
Roger Murdock: We have clearance, Clarence.
Captain Oveur: Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?
Tower voice: Tower's radio clearance, over!
Captain Oveur: That's Clarence Oveur. Over.
Tower voice: Over.
Captain Oveur: Roger.
Roger Murdock: Huh?
Tower voice: Roger, over!
Roger Murdock: What?
Captain Oveur: Huh?
Victor Basta: Who?


Speaking Jive with June Cleaver!

So much that makes this film can NOT be encapsulated in a blog post.  This is a film that demands to be seen!

Rumack: Captain, how soon can you land?
Captain Oveur: I can't tell.
Rumack: You can tell me. I'm a doctor.
Captain Oveur: No. I mean I'm just not sure.
Rumack: Well, can't you take a guess?
Captain Oveur: Well, not for another two hours.
Rumack: You can't take a guess for another two hours?

I am grateful to see AIRPLANE! on the big screen!  I might pass on Airplane! 2: The Sequel, and hope instead that they shoot for Stropes or Animal House, or something with a little more drawing power (and legit laughs).

As to AMC Theaters, orchastrating this re-release...I appreciate what AMC theaters is doing, but in a nutshell, I don't think they know exactly what they are doing just yet.  Certainly the BACK TO THE FUTURE re-release was well timed and well received, but if AMC wants this program to be successful (which I certainly am hoping for to keep these classic flicks playing on the big screens!), they better figure out how to do this!!  People need to be able to DEMAND the films they want AND have some kind of warning (AKA advertising) that the flicks are coming.  I was one of 25 or 30 in the theater for the Saturday showing of AIRPLANE!...should have been a sell-out on a cold and wet Saturday in January...that is a real shame.

Let me not go further without paying tribute to Leslie Nielsen, the straight-faced funny man for all time, playing the role of the hapless Dr. Rumack here.  I would say definitively that Nielsen's best work was with the Police Squad!, but this is up there as well.  He played Frank Drebon like an off-tune trombone and it sounded glorious.  Hell, we even loved that murderous bastard O.J. in this series.  Norberg was great comic relief within a great comic series and I hate that he sullies these gems with his presence.  I guess I can always go back and watch the original Police Squad! if I want an O.J.-less look at this great role.  It seems like Nielsen attached himself to some great properties that had "!" at the end of the title.  Just glancing through his career to put this together today, I say with convicition that his film life is worthy of a much closer inspection and I hope to stumble across a BIO special on him or maybe one day even see a biopic on him....who would play him though?  As a spoof king, nobody could run slapstick with a staright face like he...I regret only that towards the end, he got roped into some terrible films not worth the celluloid they were shot on...Superhero Movie and Scary Movie 4 jump to mind.  R.I.P. Leslie Nielsen, died 2010 at the age of 84.

This kind of transistions nicely into the current state of the spoof, which I think it is safe to say it is in shambles.  There have been some moderate successes through the years and in 2000 came a glimmer of hope by the name of SCARY MOVIE
Between then and now, though, there has been a mixed bag of crap with a few decent tries.  Most recently, the steaming piles put out by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer only impress me in so much that somehow a) these guys are allowed to make movies and b) somehow these stinkers turn a profit.  Evil begets said Cornelius in The Fifth Element.  I wonder if shit begets shit.  Take a look at these guys filmography and one would have to say that it is proof enough!  Disaster Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, etc...The only decent flick I have seen from this crew has been the latest offering, Vampires Suck.  Perhaps only the absolute ease of which one can skewer all things Twilight, did this flick arouse a few laughs in me.

Friedberg and Seltzer are credited with writing the 1996 Leslie Nielsen vehicle SPY HARD.  They both had a hand in writing the original Scary Movie, but the success of that film SEEMED to be very much due to the Wayans Brothers.  Same with the second, but then a strange thing happened...David Zucker, he who has hallowed standing as one of the creators of AIRPLANE!, was responsible for the lesser movies in the SCARY MOVIE series, #3 and #4.  Both were crap.

And while my who point here has gotten muddled, I offer this as my round-up thesis: It takes a casserole mix of awesomeness and awfulness to make any spoof film work.  When it happens, and rarely does it happen, it can be great.

Such was AIRPLANE! and I am glad we have it.  The official REEL RHINO rating is a 4 of 5 HORNS.  This movie is not perfect, but it is a damn good time! 

Until next time, take care!


PS: Airplane! is playing again Tuesday, Feb. 1st, 2011 at AMC Theaters at 7:00pm.  Don't miss it!

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