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What's the big deal?
Airplane II: The Sequel is a comedic comedy film released in 1982 and to the surprise of no-one, is the sequel to the 1980 film Airplane! Written and directed by Ken Finkleman in his directorial debut, the film sees traumatised pilot Ted Striker reunite with his on-off-again girlfriend Elaine Dickinson on board a space flight to the moon, a flight beset by numerous problems including a potential bomber and a faulty computer. The film stars Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, William Shatner and Chad Everett. The film was produced without the involvement of the team behind the first film - Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker who all deny seeing this sequel or having any desire to. It was also notable for not featuring the star Leslie Nielsen who declined to return for this film. Unlike Airplane!, the film received a mixed reception from critics and struggled at the box office with domestic earnings of just $27.2 million which was far less than its predecessor. It's stature since its release has continued to fall and today, it's regarded as one of the most disappointing sequels of all time.
What's it about?
Sometime in the near future, the moon has been colonised and a pioneering space station has been constructed, led by Commander Buck Murdock. Back on Earth, Ted Striker has been dumped by his girlfriend Elaine and finds himself committed to an insane asylum after crashing a prototype space craft designed to service the lunar base. In spite of this setback and numerous corners being cut in its testing, a flight is commissioned to launch from Houston to carry fee-paying passengers up to the surface of the moon. As preparations begin for the launch of Mayflower One, Ted realises that the ship is doomed to fail and escapes to try and prevent disaster.
Buying a ticket for the flight, Ted is shocked to discover that Elaine is working on Mayflower One as a computer operator alongside Captain Clarence Oveur, First Officer Dunn and co-pilot & navigator Unger. As the ship lifts off on its maiden voyage, the shuttle's computer soon develops a fault while a crazed bomber is apparently on the loose as well. With the ship veering wildly off course, it soon falls to Striker to overcome his difficulties and save the day once again.
What's to like?
The first Airplane! was a cinematic avalanche of puns, sight gags, slapstick and silliness so it's perhaps no great surprise that this sequel adopts the same strategy. Like the first film, this is a movie that offers no pretence to being anything other than a childish and unashamed excuse for actors to poke fun at themselves. Unlike the first film, this isn't based on an existing property (the first Airplane! was loosely based on the 1957 film Zero Hour!) so the narrative is unfortunately weaker, basically feeling like a redressed version of Airplane! but with additional sci-fi references. But the film does well to maintain the same energy and chaos as before, providing a hit of humour not entirely unlike being hit in the face with a shotgun.
The film's other main strength is bringing most of the cast back with the notable (and sorely missed) exception of Leslie Nielsen. Hays and Hagerty are once again the hard-working heroes at the centre of the havoc while the supporting cast includes originals like Graves and Bridges as well as cameos from newcomers like Sonny Bono, Raymond Burr, Shatner and Rip Torn. There is some noticeable recycling of jokes from before and the film suffers from forever being in the shadow of the first film. It lacks the creativity and spark that was provided by the ZAZ connection, the team behind the original and other classic spoofs like The Naked Gun and Top Secret!.
- The reason Nielsen turned down the chance to reprise the role of Dr Rumack (the one that reinvented his career as a comic legend) was because he was committed to the short-lived Police Squad! TV series - created by the ZAZ team, who had no involvement in the development of this film.
- On the Alpha Beta base on the moon, a technician talks about a machine with blinking lights that flash back and forth but has no discernible purpose. Not only does this poke fun at such props seen on shows like Buck Rogers In The 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica but also appeared on screen in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.
- At a pre-screening of the film, audience members were given 3D glasses to enjoy the film. However, after trying to watch the film with the specs, they soon realised that the film was not in 3D. It is unknown who was responsible for fooling the audience.
What's not to like?
Unfortunately, without the creative juices of the ZAZ crew, the film comes across as wildly desperate. If the first film threw everything at the screen and hoping it would be funny, this film simply throws anything without knowing or even caring if it works. The countless references rise a smile but it soon becomes apparent that Airplane II hasn't much more to offer. Even if you haven't seen the original, the film feels far too similar to actual disaster films but has none of the tension or drama because it's just too silly. What you're left with is a serious of stars popping up on screen, have a go at getting a giggle from you before vanishing once again. The only one who has any real success is Shatner, mainly because the film spends a lot of its running time taking pot shots at Star Trek. It almost feels like Finkleman has a vendetta or something.
Even if the film wasn't a sequel to one of the greatest film comedies of all time, this would still be a weak effort. It's puerile, stupid and tries too hard instead of letting the material speak for itself. Finkleman's script lacks the spontaneity, the humour and the originality of the first film and by contrast, it feels like a kid passing himself off as adult by dressing up in their dad's clothes. There's just too much going on, too many characters not contributing and there's too much that just isn't memorable in any way. I wanted to like it - genuinely - but in truth, the odds were always going to be stacked against it.
Should I watch it?
Out of date, out of ideas and out of luck, Airplane II: The Sequel was unlikely to stand up to the success of the first film even if the ZAZ team behind the first film had stayed. The film is a weak imitation of the original, offering little in the way of laughs or anything new besides a bloated cast propped up by cameos. Even fans of the first would struggle to get anything out of this film - it's just too unfocused and lacks the sheer volume of humour that made the first film so enjoyable.
Great For: fans of the original Star Trek, comedy fans who will laugh at literally anything, passing between your ears without stopping in your brain first
Not So Great For: fans of the first film, high expectations, hopeful studio executives
What else should I watch?
ZAZ - the aforementioned team of Jim Abrahams and David & Jerry Zucker - was largely responsible for the boom in slapstick parody films in the 1980s. Coming off the back of the ground-breaking Airplane!, the trio hit gold with the first Naked Gun film which brought Leslie Nielsen's bumbling Frank Drebin from Police Squad! (which ZAZ created) to the big screen to huge success. While the sequels The Smell Of Fear and The Final Insult came back with diminishing results, they are both still watchable compared with some of the other efforts from the time like Clue and the Dragnet reboot. Not everything they did worked - Hot Shots! isn't that a bad film as such but it's a long way from their highlights and by the mid 1990's, the trio had more or less gone their separate ways.
However, the team weren't the only ones poking fun at the film industry as the great Mel Brooks was still providing some genuinely brilliant films in the late Seventies and Eighties. High Anxiety is a spoof of Hitchcock thrillers that isn't quite as good as Brooks' earlier hits Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein but is still worth a watch, as is Spaceballs which expertly dissects Star Wars to great effect. These days, parody films often pop up and imitate far more successful films and franchises but little of the wit associated with these earlier films. So-called parodies like The Hungover Games and Fifty Shades Of Black (which takes aim at Fifty Shades Of Grey, a film so bad that it's close to self-parody already) aren't worth the time or effort. But don't give up all hope - Deadpool and its sequel are very enjoyable takedowns of all things Marvel despite being part of that very set-up (well, kinda) while The Lego Batman Movie is a wonderful spoof of every Batman film ever made, one that fans young and old will get a real kick out of.
Capt. Clarence Oveur
Comm. Buck Murdock
Release Date (UK)
28th January, 1982
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