Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Airplane II: The Sequel


With an exclamation point.

It's a comedy classic, a quotable treasure trove of hilarity, a slapstick goldmine, and anything else that's ever been said about it. I have yet to come across anyone who didn't giggle at least a little bit at the ridiculous sight gags and the deadpan delivery of such clever and outrageous lines. From my personal experience, the film's current rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, and its preservation by the Library of Congress, it's evident that Airplane! is well-loved, or at least well-liked, by all.

Also, they made a sequel.

When you've got something as popular as Airplane!, it's only natural to consider a sequel. Why squander all that potential acclaim and fame and profit by taking your chances with an unrelated new project? If lightning struck once, it could certainly strike again.

All I'd ever heard about Airplane II was that, if lightning had struck again, it had struck an outhouse in a field of manure. This wasn't the kind of sequel people talked about as disappointing--this was the kind of sequel people didn't talk about at all.

Being a fan of bad movies, I was willing to give this unnecessary sequel a shot.

I liked it nearly as much as the original.

No, no. This isn't an April Fools' joke. I know it's April 1st. I liked Airplane II more than I probably should have.

Yes, it follows almost exactly the same formula as its predecessor. Yes, it reuses most of the same gags, too. It's simultaneously a tribute, a parody, and a flagrant derivative of the first film. I'm fine with this. I grew up on Power Rangers and Mega Man--I don't exactly demand total novelty in each new installment. All I ask is that my entertainment be worth the time I spend with it, and for Airplane II, my time was well-spent.

Well, well-spent enough, anyhow.

There are jokes that fall flat. I'm not talking about halfhearted chuckles and barely cracking a smile; I mean jokes that not only fail to be funny, but actually damage the film a little bit by their existence. Two crewmen get sucked out an airlock and begin drifting creepily into space...and then their corpses bump into each other and begin waltzing together. Maybe this gag had the potential to be funny, but it came off as a little uncomfortable and unsettling.

Oh, I should have mentioned: Airplane II takes place in space. That is, it takes place in The Future, and instead of being on an airplane, everyone is on board a space shuttle that gets thrown off course toward the sun by its crazy navigational computer. I like space. I dig The Future. And I like that, despite too many jokes that fall flat, the humor manages to be more consistent than in the original Airplane!.

Airplane! reaches hysterical heights, but not consistently. At least to my comedic sensibilities, there are entire sections of the film that don't even come close to being as funny as the best parts. Even if the movie as a whole is entertaining, those not-as-funny (but still funny) areas feel like low points in comparison. With Airplane II, there are a few laughs worthy of the original, but rarely or never anything so uproarious that I thought, "I need to quote this movie for the next two decades! Ha ha!" This actually worked to the film's advantage--by maintaining a fairly steady stream of chuckles and giggles and balancing out the no-good jokes with some better-than-average ones, the movie never became so funny that I began anticipating "the next joke that is as amazing as that last one."

I was pleased to see that the majority of the original cast returned, too. I can think of a few sequels that have suffered because they made do without one or two of the key cast members, either writing their characters out or replacing them with look-alikes who couldn't act alike. I know there are several layers of complexity as to why people take part in a sequel, but on the surface, at least, seeing the original participants return is a sort of stamp of approval on their part. I'll conveniently leave out the part that virtually none of the big names behind the camera returned for Airplane II.

Still, it's the same feel and the same kind of humor as the first movie (even when they're not rehashing the old gags), which isn't always the case when a completely new band of directors, screenwriters, etc. takes over an established property. The only two areas that feel lacking--which I differentiate from being overdone or simply not working well--are the plot and the delivery of some of the lines.

Airplane! only needed enough plot to set up its jokes. Airplane II starts off with a plot of, "it's the first movie, but with a space shuttle instead of an airplane," but then loses sight of itself with a random love interest for heroine Elaine Dickinson followed by a courtroom flashback and a psych ward scene that complicate the story of hero Ted Striker's life between sequels. Beyond that, the movie never decides whether it's truly set in the future or whether the future is a pretense to have everything look exactly the same as it did in Airplane! but be humorously passed off as futuristic. It's the same complaint I had with the fantasy elements of Clannad--either commit to what you're doing, or don't bother at all. As it is, Airplane II has plot lumps that need to be smoothed out and a lack of stylistic cohesion where The Future is concerned.

One of the things that makes the first film so hilarious is the way the actors can deliver these absurd lines with a straight face and seemingly natural timing. The sequel falls short here on several occasions, resulting in a number of rehashed jokes sounding like...rehashed jokes. The "...but that's not important now" gag is one of my favorites, and if you can catch the audience off-guard, it'll stay funnier for far longer than it ought to be. A slower delivery with just too much of a pause before the punchline can give the audience enough time to see where the line is going, and the brain catches on to what's happening before the viewer has a chance to laugh involuntarily at the surprise.

Yet, despite all this, I still liked the movie. I still thought it was funny. I believe you have to be in a good, lighthearted mood going into the film, and not be expecting the first Airplane! all over again. If nothing else, it's worth it for the big-name cameo toward the end of the film, which was somehow completely unexpected and yet exactly what I had been counting on the whole movie.

Airplane II never surpasses its predecessor, but there are moments when it comes close. It's a little bit of a turbulent ride, and some of what they feed you is a mite unpalatable, but the trip is an enjoyable one overall if you're not demanding first class.

1 comment:

Matt Link said...

So... many.... beeping... LIGHTS... flashing around me!