A Warmed-Over, Space-Based Rehash
Airplane II: The Sequel
Let's be clear up front: Airplane! did not need a sequel. The whole impetus of the first film, to make fun of disaster films but literally remaking a disaster film and grafting jokes onto it, had been done and dusted with the first movie. There wasn't a sequel to that original film, Zero Hour that could also be mocked. Most of the films to come in the wake of Zero Hour, such as all the Airport films, were also mocked by Airplane!. The team of Zucker-Abrahms-Zucker (aka ZAZ) didn't want to make a sequel. There was no reason to create a follow up film set in the same universe. Everyone knew this but the studio.
Of course, the film also made a stupid amount of money on a tiny budget, and studio Paramount Pictures couldn't just let that go. So even though ZAZ weren't on board, Paramount went ahead with plans on a sequel. They hired Ken Finkleman to write and direct the film, and what he turned out was... not good. It's bad. There's no other way to but it. It's a pretty wretched movie that coasts by recycling material from the first film. Any laughed had in the sequel come from star Robert Hays and his reactions to the dumb stuff going on around him. But there really is no reason for this film to exist because all it does is tarnish the legacy of the first film. I rarely say this, but we would be better off if the sequel didn't exist at all.
In the film, we once again have Ted Striker (Hays) on the outs with his best gal, Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) because of a bad flight accident. Striker was the pilot of a new prototype spaceship, and there were flaws in its design. he tried to tell people after the ship went down, but the company blamed him for the accident and had him locked away in an asylum. But once he learned that the shuttle was going to go into space, ferrying people to the new moon colony, well, he had to get out and warn Elaine. That's what he does.
Of course, Elaine is on the space flight, and of course Striker finds a way onto the shuttle. And, yes, bad things then inevitably happen. Corners were cut in the design of the shuttle, and very quickly the wiring fries and it causes the ships A.I. to go insane. The pilots are killed, and Striker has to take the controls so that he can guide the ship to the moon and save the day. You know, just like the first film all over again. But dumber, and with more space for some reason.
So, if we're being fair, Finkleman likely wanted to parody the burgeoning space opera genre with this film. Space operas were hot at the time (thanks in no small part to Star WarsThe modern blockbuster: it's a concept so commonplace now we don't even think about the fact that before the end of the 1970s, this kind of movie -- huge spectacles, big action, massive budgets -- wasn't really made. That all changed, though, with Star Wars, a series of films that were big on spectacle (and even bigger on profits). A hero's journey set against a sci-fi backdrop, nothing like this series had ever really been done before, and then Hollywood was never the same.) and sending up new material, instead of just redoing the airplane disaster film does make sense. Unfortunately, the script doesn't manage to convey any of those new ideas or really find any way to parody the space opera genre. It just puts a plane in space, in essence, and then redoes the same old material from the first film all over again. It doesn't work.
It's frankly easy to spot all the times the sequel rehashes all the material from the first movie. There's the same line deliveries, like someone explaining something simple and then saying "but that doesn't matter right now" (which becomes less and less funny the more times its done). There's one of the two jive-talking guys, doing his thing again (but not as funny). There's the woman getting slapped from the first film, getting slapped all over again. As woman thinking about how her husband never has coffee this late at night. A pilot that sexually harasses a child. It's all redone here, and none of it is as good.
There are, of course, new bits thrown in, although most of these are direct references to other, better films. The A.I. goes bad, so of course it has to act like HAL-9000. There's a row of telephones, so of course an E.T.-like alien tries to "phone home." William Shatner shows up for a brief role, and we see a reference to the Starship Enterprise. I wouldn't call any of these references funny, even if the film thinks they are. They're just references for the sake of references.
If the film were funnier I probably would have been able to accept just how terrible its space science was. I would be able to accept that it was meant as parody instead of someone just not knowing how space works. But because the film isn't funny, like at all, then I was forced to actually pay attention to the plot and, well, it just doesn't make any sense. The shuttle goes off course, on its way to the Moon (from Earth, mind you) and ends up in the Asteroid Belt (you know, that location out way past Mars). Then it makes a hard turn and flies at the sun. Then it banks back around and quickly ends up at the Moon, all with constant, perfectly synced up, communication with Earth. That's no possible. It's bad science, and because the film doesn't play it like it's silly or funny, I just think the writer didn't understand how bad it was.
I do want to think that the writer tried. Maybe the studio approached Finkleman and said, "give us the first movie all over again." If that was the case, well then he delivered. They didn't ask for it to be funny, they just asked for the same film again, and that's what we got. The story is exactly the same (just with space). The characters reference the fact that they're trapped in the same movie again. Everyone seems to know it's just the same film again. So if we are kind, we can credit Finkleman for giving the studio what they asked for. Certainly they put it into production and let it go to theaters (where it basically bombed) so, yeah, gotta think this is what they wanted. They didn't want funny, or good, and they certainly didn't get that.
Seriously, the only thing that works in Robert Hays. He has a way of seeing stupid crap happening around him and reacting to it with deadpan perfection. The times I laughed weren't because of a skit or some antics happening in the film, it was because Hays reacted to it and sold the joke of the situation. If Hays weren't here, this film would be an absolute zero-star production. Because of him it at least rates one or two stars. Not more, mind you. Just one or two. Outside of that, it's utter trash.
Although not everything the ZAZ team made after the first Airplane! was gold, they arguably had better luck delivering funny productions that delivered. They were right to bail on a sequel to Airplane!, and if the studio had known any better they should have let the matter drop there. They didn't, and they cursed us with Airplane II: The Sequel. This is a stain on all of us that will never go away.