Does Airplane II: The Sequel need to exist? No. Should it exist? Probably not. Is it still kind of funny, especially once we hit the midway point and it finds its grove? Yeah, I suppose it is. No, it’s not going to match or surpass the original, but it’s hard to deny that there are a good number of laughs to be found in Airplane II, and that the same type of comedy found in the first one is prevalent this time around, too.
In fact, one might say that type of humor is exactly the same as this one. Most of the jokes are the same, the situations are nearly identical, and save for the airplane’s destination, the plot is an exact match to the first film. I mean, this time around we’re in the near future and the moon has been colonized — and is where our ship is headed — but apart from that, you can just take the plot of Airplane! and stick a number “2” on the script and you’ve got the same movie. Many jokes are recycled from the original — and not in a meta, self-aware way — but they were so funny before and it turns out they’re still funny now, even if they’re not the freshest jokes out there.
The plot: Ted Striker (Robert Hays) saved the world in Airplane! but has now been locked up in an insane asylum after crashing during a test run of a new spacecraft. It wasn’t his fault, he claims, but because Big Business is awful, they framed him and locked him away. Now they’re going to fly people to the moon, in the first commercial space flight ever. Elaine (Julie Hagerty), love interest from the first film, has moved on from Striker, but is still a stewardess and will be on-board.
Striker gets word about the flight, breaks out of the prison, buys a ticket, and winds up on this ship. Then things go wrong, the computer goes all HAL on the crew, and the ship winds up headed toward the sun. It’s up to Striker to save everyone aboard. He doesn’t have to overcome personal demons this time, though. Instead, he just … has to come up with a pretty simple solution. Huh. I never noticed how much that character development mattered in the first film until seeing the sequel.
Most of the film consists of re-using jokes, gags, and situations from the first film. Would you believe that Striker talks to an elderly passenger for so long that she winds up dead? Or that people form a line to slap and shake a woman? Yes, it’s all still funny, but seeing it a second time, without even a hint of self-awareness, just reminds us how clever the first film was and how the sequel doesn’t have any ideas of its own. But we’re also laughing, and that’s what matters.
Airplane II was directed and written by Ken Finkleman, who was not involved in the first film. On paper, that seems like a good idea. If the first one was a random and zany “throw everything at the wall” kind of film, what would those filmmakers come up with in the sequel that they couldn’t have included in the first place? Bring in fresh blood and new ideas and we could have something worthwhile. But Finkleman doesn’t do that. He just liberally borrows from Airplane! over and over again.
Much of the cast was retained from Airplane!. In addition to Hays and Hagerty, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, and Stephen Stucker are all back. It was fun to see them. They didn’t do anything different this time around, but their appearances were a welcome addition. The film would have been less enjoyable without them, even if I do wonder what it would have been like to see different actors play identical parts (as part of a joke). They’re all funny — even if they weren’t previously known for being comedic actors — and they add to the production. I missed Leslie Nielsen, though. He was the breakout star of Airplane!.
Maybe it was just me, but it felt like there were more pop culture references this time out. If there’s one new addition to the script, it’s them. E.T. makes a brief cameo, there’s HAL 2.0, some music from Battlestar Galactica and Mission: Impossible, and so on. William Shatner is in the movie playing a character named Buck Murdock! I’m sure that’s a reference to something. Nerds, help me out.
Is Airplane II: The Sequel worth seeing? Did you like Airplane!? Do you want to see Airplane! in space? Because that’s basically what Airplane II is. It’s the same movie, but it takes place primarily in space. The jokes are recycled, the plot is identical, many of the situations are similar, but, yes, it’s all still pretty funny, even if it lacks the freshness of the original. If that sounds like it’s worth your time, it probably will be. You’ll laugh a good amount.