Airplane! is one of those films that, having seeped into the cultural consciousness long ago, is doomed to sitting there, telling its best three jokes over and over into infinity.
Different films deal with this in different ways: the Monty Python films work to turn this repeated quotability into a virtue, creating small cults of ‘Ni! Ni! Ni!’ing fans. Approaching This is Spinal Tap for the first time now is a waiting game of ticking off the famous gags that deflates the spirit and originality that made the film special in the ’80s.
Airplane!, meanwhile, pays no heed to its classic status. It’s as famous for firing off its hundreds of jokes at machine-gun velocity as it is for “and don’t call me Shirley”, or Otto the auto-pilot. And that means there are plenty of unexplored nooks and crannies to be discovered, which in turns means this 30 year-old film remains fresh and, most importantly, funny.
The jokes go by so fast (and with an admittedly, and possibly not entirely unintentionally, not great hit rate) that for the most part they just serve to provide colour. Jive-talking translators, children who like their men like they like their coffee, and undercover-basketball-player co-pilots mean that, thankfully, Airplane! remains as impossible to predict or anticipate as Captain Oveur’s questions: Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?