Posted on 8/01/12 01:41 PM
Where It's Different, It Isn't Funny; Where It's Funny, It Isn't Different
I've been discussing copyright/patent law and its effects on creativity with some people I know online, and I am of the opinion that copyright laws help more than they hurt. The fact is, this movie exists because the rights to making a sequel were not controlled by the guys who made the first one. Indeed, the only reason there isn't a third is that this one tanked at the box office. Now, there is a certain amount of carryover between the two, in that it's basically the same plot in a lot of ways--the characters even acknowledge that fact. However, I think the makers of this version missed a certain amount of what made the first one as great as it is. I use that word advisedly, too; I think Airplane! is one of the great film comedies, and possibly the greatest parody film ever made. This one . . . is if that same movie had been made by imitators.
After the events of the first movie, Ted Striker (Robert Hays) and Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) split up again. This is because Striker has been unfairly locked in a mental institution for claiming that the space plane he's been working on is unsafe; he is blamed for its crash instead. Elaine ends up engaged to Simon Kurtz (Chad Everett, who died the other day) instead. Striker breaks out of the mental hospital to stop the plane's maiden flight to a lunar colony. And, of course, Elaine and Simon are on the plane. Striker can't stop the flight, so he gets on board. The computer is crazy and goes after the flight crew, killing them all. Including Captain Clarence Oveur (Peter Graves) from the first movie. Steven McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) is brought in to help guide the space plane to the lunar colony. The computer is sending the plane into the Sun. And the head of the lunar base is William Shatner, because why not?
Part of the problem--the biggest problem--is that there just isn't anything new here. Yeah, we've lost Leslie Nielsen and gained William Shatner. Instead of winning one for the Zipper, we are failing to be over Macho Grande. We have a homicidal computer instead of bad fish. However, it just doesn't seem as though much thought was put into it. There's a lengthy courtroom sequence which just feels like padding. Yes, the first film had a lengthy flashback in the middle, too, but this one is mostly just making sure that we remember what happened in the first movie. Which, you know, we do. In some ways, it would be better for this movie if we didn't, because we wouldn't be left thinking how much funnier the jokes were the first time. The worst thing a mediocre movie can do is deliberately remind us of a substantially better one; I think a lot of its negative reviews stem from the fact that it simply doesn't measure up to the first one and isn't trying to do something new.
Now, to be fair, there are a couple of things in it which I'm glad they carried over from the last one. Everyone knows the best character in the first one was the crazy Johnny (Stephen Stucker), who in this movie appears to get a last name and is Controller Jacobs. In the first movie, they basically just didn't write lines for him; they told him what line he was going to be responding to and let him just say whatever he wanted. I don't know if they did that here, but he does get some good ones in. (And doesn't overwhelm the movie; a little of Johnny is great, but a lot would probably be annoying.) There is also a carryover of one of the better running gags, but that's not important right now. (And the best one is the one in which a small boy [Oliver Robins] delivers it.) It would be nice if the film had also developed a really good running gag or two of its own, but no such luck. Still, this is better than nothing, I suppose.
Really, that's the feeling the whole movie leaves me with. It's better than nothing. It's better than various of the movies I could have watched instead. I enjoyed it well enough, but I'm much more inclined to just go get my copy of the first one out and watch it again (with trivia track!) than seek this one out. I'm certainly not inclined to buy it. I'm amused that, whereas the jet made propeller plane noises, the spaceship makes jet noises. (Well, it wouldn't make any noise in space anyway.) It's a completely ridiculous movie, but of course it is. It couldn't be anything else, not really. In fact, if it tried to be something else, it would be an even bigger failure than it already is. It's hard to talk about this movie without simply damning it with faint praise, because that's what happens with inferior sequels to great, or even just really good, movies. This is probably why Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker had no intention of making a sequel. Much as I enjoyed this movie, I can't say that they were wrong.