Airplane II: The Sequel

Airplane 2Synopsis: There’s a mad bomber on board, the first lunar shuttle is about to self-destruct, the engines are not working and – worst of all – the flight crew discovers they are completely out of coffee! It’s the high flying lunacy of Airplane! all over again as Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty fly totally out of the ozone to recreate their hilarious original roles. The crew of crazies includes Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, William Shatner, Chad Everett, Sonny Bono, Raymond Burr and many others. Can Hays save the day again – without caffeine? Fasten your seatbelts for a ride you’ll never forget – Airplane II: The Sequel.

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Airplane II: The Sequel 8.0

eyelights: Lloyd Bridges. William Shatner. Peter Graves. the madcap humour.
eyesores: Sonny Bono.

“A four-alarm fire in Downtown Moscow clears way for a glorious new tractor factory, And, on the lighter side of the news, Hundreds of capitalists are soon to perish in shuttle disaster.”

I know that this will fly in the face of convention, but I’m a fan of writer-director Ken Finkleman’s sequel to the massively popular ‘Airplane!‘.  A flop at the time of its release (enough so to scuttle a second planned sequel), it is a far more successful comedy than it is given credit for. In fact, I think that it easily rivals the original’s skill for tickling the funny bone. Its key weakness is that it emulates its predecessor all too well, serving up a truly similar film in many respects.

In fact, for a few years, I had no idea that it wasn’t a Zucker/Zucker/Abrahams picture, and was blown away when I watched my then-newly minted DVD and saw Finkleman’s name in the credits. Alone. At first I felt that his efforts at copying their style was a mixed bag, with some gags failing miserably while others did quite well. But the reality is that I find it much more interesting to watch now; it has grown on me considerably over the years – much more than I could have expected.

The thing is, Finkleman (who was only just getting started in the business at the time) poured an unfathomable amount of gags of all sorts into his 90-minute film. Let’s face it: the original had three writer-directors – it’s not surprising that they injected so much into it. But Finkleman not only delivered new spins on their material, he also padded the film with some of his own, making the film even more jam-packed than ‘Airplane!’. (a small admission: I was disappointed with ‘Airplane!’s comparatively slow pace when I last watched it)

Now, I understand that most people will scoff at the idea that the sequel’s value is of equal measure to the classic, but I argue that only the historical significance of the former makes it so. If one compares the two pictures, there’s absolutely no reason to diminish the work that was put into ‘Airplane II’. None whatsoever. Actually, in some respects, I would even go so far as to say that it’s a more solid effort all around, only tripping up with a handful of cornier gags here and there.

Even the cast is more even-keeled. Oh, sure, we don’t get Robert Stack or Leslie Nielsen in this one, but Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty actually perform better here (Hays, in particular, amused me to no end with his Kermit the Frog-like reactions and body language). Plus which the film attracted a few decent supporting players in the form of Rip Torn and William Shatner (Yes, The Shat – whose comic performance is actually a highlight of the tail-end of the picture).

Soldier: “Those lights are blinking out of sequence.”
Buck Murdock: “I see.”
Soldier: “What should we do?”
Buck Murdock: “Make them blink in sequence.”

Sadly, for every Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that got tossed from ‘Airplane!’, there is a Sonny Bono to replace him in ‘Airplane II’. I don’t know how he managed it, but somehow he was able to ruin a perfectly easy part, overplaying it like a total amateur. Why he was cast is beyond me. At least Jabbar had few lines and wasn’t central to the plot – Bono, in the meantime, is a key player in the trouble aboard the Mayflower One.

Elaine Dickinson: “Ted, I have the strangest feeling we’ve been through this exact same thing before.”
Ted Striker: “We’re not in the past or the present anymore, Elaine. This… is the FUTURE.”

In this version of ‘Airplane!’, our cast is reunited in “the future”. From Houston, they depart on what is to be the first space shuttle to carry civilians to the moon. By this point, Elaine is engaged to a macho pilot and Ted has been institutionalised and discredited – he hasn’t flown in years. But his heart still pines for Elaine: he escapes the insane asylum to get her back… and to avert  a terrible disaster, convinced that the shuttle has built-in defects that will doom its passengers.

Dunn: “Uh, Captain, I’m picking up an overheat in the computer core.”
Clarence Oveur: “How serious is it, Mr. Dunn?”
Dunn: “Uh, I can’t tell sir.”
Clarence Oveur: “Well you can tell me – I’m the Captain.”

Thus they find themselves on a plane again (okay… a shuttle, this time), in a situation that seems oddly familiar.

I loved that ‘Airplane II: The Sequel’ took it upon itself to give us a science-fiction element instead of keeping to the aeroplane theme of the first one. In so doing, it provides us with a fresh spin on the series, all the while transposing familiar elements into a new context, breathing new life into it. Furthermore, it gave Finkleman a chance to incorporate elements of a few science fiction classics (‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, Battlestar Galactica, ‘E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial’, and Star Wars (of course!)  in his spoof.

It also throws in a few other references, such as ‘Mission Impossible’  (why Zucker/Zucker/Abraham chose not to use Peter Graves in this fashion in the first place I beyond me), ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’, ‘Logan’s Run’ and ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’. Some of these nods are extremely esoteric, so only die-hards would notice them (I myself only made the links by reading about them!), but it adds a certain geek factor that’s a total gas.

Another thing I like is that Finkleman’s ‘Airplane!’ sometimes pushes the envelope: in some of its humour:

Businessman #1: “Don’t worry about the Viatex account, we have a buy and sell option; we can’t get hurt in either case.”
Businessman #2: “Just keep in touch with their legal people, Bob.”
Businessman #1: “Will do.”
(the two men kiss)
Businessman #2: “And Bob, feed the cats.”
Businessman #1: “Will do.”

In 1982, this was waaaay ahead of its time. Not only does it avoid make pejorative comments, but it puts to its audience two perfectly normal situations and blends them together in a surprise maneuver that most would not expect. Frankly, even to this day, it amuses me to no end to see these two middle-aged, average-looking businessmen casually go through the motions of any other couple.

What’s terrific is that, unlike other films of the era, this is not meant to shock or offend – only to surprise you. And, possibly, make you think. I love that. Of course, it’s not to say that all of the film’s humour is clever or thought-provoking, hardly, but it’s far superior to what one might expect not just from a sequel but from the failed follow-up to a perennial classic and game-changer.

Surprisingly, ‘Airplane II: The Sequel’ is as effective as the original ‘Airplane!’. Why it has been woefully discarded is beyond me: Ken Finkleman was extremely respectful of the original material and also added to it considerably with his own touches. In fact, I wish that it had been a success, because then perhaps Finkleman’s career would have been given enough of a boost that we would have had a lot more material from him.

Steve McCroskey (drunkenly): “Gentlemen, I don’t find it easy to talk at a time like this, but I got to say something about that guy up there, and I can sum it all up in just one word: courage…dedication, daring, pride, pluck, spirit, grit, mettle, and G-U-T-S, *guts*. Why, Ted Striker’s got more guts in his little finger than most of us have in our large intestine, including the colon.”

(He gestures extravagantly and falls over)

Date of viewing: May 16, 2013

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