Saturday, May 08, 2004

The Children Of AIRPLANE!

As I talked about in my last post, it looks like the next few months will be a sucky season filled with sequels. With every genre represented, and every cliché exploited, it is going to be a long hot summer.

One genre that I’m really sick of is represented by the arrival on DVD of SCARY MOVIE 3. You know the genre, the AIRPLANE!/Mad Magazine-derived joke-a-minute spoofs that seem to appear every several months and have inane scatalogical humor in place of real satire. So let’s take a look at the chief offenders in this increasingly lame genre in a mini-guide to:

The Children Of AIRPLANE!

For those of you just tuning in, fellow comedy writers/performers Jerry and David Zucker, along with Jim Abrahams created a franchise around a bunch of cheap jokes and lame sight gags. 

It started when the Zuckers and Abrahams (ZAZ for short) took their stage show from the Kentucky Fried Theater in Milwaukee to Hollywood to make the crude but hilarious sketch film  THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE in 1977.


(Dirs. ZAZ, 1980) which begat: 

Police Squad! (ABC-TV Series, 1982) After his straight-man to a perfection performance in AIRPLANE!, Leslie Neilsen starred as Detective Frank Drebin in a ZAZ's dead-on parody of '60s and '70s cop shows. Unfortunately this blueprint would soon be bred dry.

TOP SECRET! (Dirs. ZAZ, 1984) 

File this under "what were they thinking?!!?" I mean the idea was to mix Elvis movie musical fluff with Nazi spy dramas, right? RIGHT?!!? I dunno, but Val Kilmer does his earnest best to fend off prison anal sex jokes, and a misguided BLUE LAGOON take-off.

At least it has that one surreal sequence with Peter Cushing, otherwise what a collection of misfires! 

THE NAKED GUN 2½: THE SMELL OF FEAR (Dir. David Zucker, 1991)
NAKED GUN 33: THE FINAL INSULT (Dir. Peter Segal, 1994)

Detective Drebin (Nielsen) returns from sitcom cancellation purgatory in three movies that get progressively worse and are sadly most remembered for having O.J. Simpson appear as Drebin's cop partner punching bag in all three.

Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, Anna Nicole Simpson, and Robert Goulet chime in with pop culture icon plug-aways, and the jokes - hit or miss - just keep coming.

The first NAKED GUN movie is the only one I’d recommended.

HOT SHOTS! (Dir. Jim Abrahams, 1991)/ HOT SHOTS! PART DEUX (Dir. Jim Abrahams, 1993) 

While the Zucker Brothers did other less jokey projects (GHOST, RUTHLESS PEOPLE) Jim Abrahams never left the always go for the funny fold. 

Abraham's Charlie Sheen fronted TOP GUN spoofs took on RAMBO, NO WAY OUT, BASIC INSTINCT among countless other targets to better success than a number of later day Zucker efforts. Surprisingly both flicks hold up today - on a silly stupid level, mind you. Bits like the Saddam Hussein look-alike casting kills, and add a clueless war-time President played by Lloyd Bridges and you'll get sucker punched into the next decade.

HIGH SCHOOL HIGH (Dir. Hart Bochner, 1996) Hip hop high school dramas like DANGEROUS MINDS get a beat down in a movie that actually lets Jon Lovitz take the lead, a romantic heroic lead at that. Problem is the plethora of cheap throwaway gags, but in 1996 who was even paying attention? Only David Zucker of ZAZ was involved here as a co-writer. 

Some of the ZAZ team appear as writers or producers of the following offspring of AIRPLANE! but some titles are unrelated hangers-on or copycats. Most notably Ken Finklemen's AIRPLANE 2: THE SEQUEL (note the lack of an exclamation point) which ZAZ not only had nothing to do with - they made a pact never to see it. Despite some genuine laughs it was a blatant cash-in much like the majority of movies here:

(Dir. Garry Marshall, 1982) 
One of the first to use lame slogans like "in the tradition of..." or ad copy along the lines of "does to soap operas what AIRPLANE! did to disaster movies." Wishful thinking. This Gary Marshall directed hospital farce didn't even come close despite the talents of a post Laverne & Shirley/pre-Spinal Tap Michael McKean and Sean Young (she was in BLADE RUNNER the same summer this came out).

JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY (Dir. Amy Heckerling, 1984) This time out it's '30s-'40s gangster movies getting the joke-a-minute treatment. Try joke every 30 minutes more like.

I'M GONNA GET YOU SUCKA (Dir. Keenen Ivory Wayans, 1988) The Wayans Brothers pre-In Loving Color take on Blaxploitation movies from the '70s using the ZAZ mold.

FATAL INSTINCT (Dir. Carl Reiner, 1993) The less said the better.

NATIONAL LAMPOON'S LOADED WEAPON I (Dir. Gene Quintano, 1993) Ditto.

No, I'm just kidding. This send-up of the LETHAL WEAPON movies, starring Emilio Estevez and Samuel L. Jackson had its fair share of funny gags, one of which included Bruce Willis in a cameo as his DIE HARD character, John McClane.

(Dir. Jim Abrahams, 1998) 
Abrahams should've known better. At least the exclamation point was back.

The genre was dead as door-nail by the late '90s, but crap kept coming:

BASKETBALL (Dir. David Zucker, 1999) This ill-fated collaboration with Trey Parker & Matt Stone of South Park fame is barely a blink on the comedy radar. Remember it? I didn't think so.

SPY HARD (Dir. Rick Friedberg, 1996)
WRONGFULLY ACCUSED (Dir. Pat Proft, 1998) Leslie Nielsen cashes in on his ZAZ-created non-persona. Why not? 

Most recently, David Zucker took over the SCARY MOVIE franchise (originally helmed by Keenen Ivory Wayans) for SCARY MOVIE 3, now out on DVD. Wayan's movies stole heavily from the ZAZ style in their slapdash spoofery of the SCREAM movies and the modern horror genre so the takeover makes sense. If only it made laughs.

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