I must have seen well over a thousand comedy films in my life, from clever, understated British Ealing movies to the Three Stooges. I’ve seen a lot of bad ones, and a lot of mediocre ones, and quite a few really good ones. I figure I’m ahead of the game if I get a dozen chuckles and a handful of guffaws in a movie. But the list of films where I literally laughed until my sides hurt is very, very short. One of them was Airplane!, by the writing-directing team known as ZAZ: Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker. I can still laugh myself silly watching that one.
I don’t think that film will ever be surpassed in the balls-out comedy parody genre, simply because nothing can ever be as fresh and new as that one was. We had never seen a film willing to throw so much at the screen at one time. (It was the first time, for instance, that I had ever seen the shit literally hitting the fan.) If a joke laid an egg, don’t worry, a hilarious one was only thirty seconds away, at most.
This one was ZAZ’s second effort, and it’s pretty good. It’s the same sophomoric mix of sight and sound gags, tackling the spy movie genre. It’s set in East Germany (remember East Germany?), which is indistinguishable from Nazi Germany. It stars a young Val Kilmer in his first movie role as an American rock star booked into a festival when Leonard Bernstein cancelled. The damn commies had no idea who he was, but had expected classical. This gives him a chance to channel Elvis in several musical interludes, and he does it very well. My favorite: “Skeet Surfin’,” with guys carrying shotguns on surfboards.