Chapter Two: ZAZ (Not ZAZ)
By Brett Ballard-Beach
January 19, 2012
There is another, more personal connection inherent in this week’s pics: both Airplane!, and The Kentucky Fried Movie are among the few films ever explicitly forbidden me by my parents. The former, even with its PG rating, was never deemed suitable for my six-year-old eyes when it first began airing on pay cable in the early ‘80s. (As you might gather, given my past revelations in Chapter Two, I did end up seeing Airplane II before Airplane!) I also quite clearly recall seeing KFM with my parents as one of our very first videocassette rentals after purchasing a Zenith VCR in October 1983. It remains the only film ever where my parents told me to cover my eyes (during both “Sex Record” and the concluding Eyewitness News parody) and after revisiting it last week for the first time in 28 years, I am grateful for their judgment call.
Now I am aware of all the honor and praise accorded to Airplane!, its place in American comedy film history, and all the lesser (and lesser) “parodies” that it has inspired, all the way on down to Friedberg and Seltzer’s continual onslaught, but I persist in thinking that their other directorial efforts as a trio - 1984’s Top Secret and 1986’s Ruthless People - are as funny, if not funnier, with the latter producing solid laughs from start to finish, featuring macabre and clever plotting, and containing terrific character actor performances, all without needing to rely strictly on the spoof genre. (ZAZ wrote Top Secret, but not Ruthless People.) The Naked Gun was their last gasp as a writing trio (although ZAZ did executive produce the rest of the trilogy) and from there, their individual writing and directing careers proceeded in quite different directions. I will cover that a little more in-depth next week.
I hadn’t seen the entirety of Airplane II since I was still in single digits age-wise, but a few months ago I caught about 30 minutes (sans sound but with captions) while working out at the gym and I found myself laughing along to the words. I figured it was worth devoting a column to it. In some (re: many) ways, Airplane II is a rip off of the first film, featuring not only most of the original cast in the same roles, but reprising the exact same gags from the first film, repeatedly. The original borrowed its plot primarily from an old Paramount disaster movie (Zero Hour) but also laid to waste a decade’s worth of increasingly and exceedingly ridiculous Airport movies. The line between (un?) intentionally hysterical junk and straight-faced parody is exceedingly thin.
Airplane II takes its mad bomber subplot from Airport (Sonny Bono convincingly channels Van Heflin) but its primary plot is where the true genius/stupidity/insanity of Finkleman’s scenario rests. The storyline picks up at some distant point in the future, after the events of Airplane!, which are constantly referenced, on the evening of the first commercial space shuttle flight from Earth to an already-colonized moon. (the first operational flight of Space Shuttle Columbia occurred in November 1982, one month prior to the film’s release.) So, technically speaking, Airplane II: The Sequel is a science fiction film (and I would add, a dystopian sci-fi, but that’s for another time). But, obviously, this is a ridiculous film, 100% more fiction than science, and no effort is actually made to have the film resemble the notion that it is set in the future, least of all in the cast members who all look about the same age they did two years prior. In summation, my rational mind is caught somewhere between appreciation and complete mental shutdown at this most ludicrous of plot devices.