The concept of satire has been around for a really long time. I’m sure it goes back to some famous Roman or something. But the modern spoof movie as we’ve come to understand it has much more recent roots. Now, by spoof I’m not talking about satire in general, something that comments on familiar tropes, I’m talking about one movie that makes direct references to other, very famous movies. A lot of people trace these things back to the 1980 release Airplane!, a movie that’s still highly regarded and that launched its creators on the path to doing things like Top Secret!, The Naked Gun, and Hot Shots!; all films that are also generally well-regarded among fans of comedies.
One spoof that isn’t so fondly remembered is the 1993 film National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1. Its star, Emilio Estevez, got so much crap for starring in what was viewed as a lesser spoof movie, right after his brother did the Hot Shots! movies, that they even had to address the issue in the film. And the director, Gene Quintano, he didn’t go on to do shit. Does this movie deserve the reputation it has for being a bottom tier pretender, though? No way! Have you watched it lately? There’s a lot of good stuff in there.
What do they have in common?
Both of these movies are heavy on references to other films that came before them. Airplane! is referencing the Airport series of movies that came out over the course of the 70s, and most specifically, Airport ’75, which it takes its plot from. Loaded Weapon is taking aim at the buddy cop movies of the 80s, and the super successful series of Lethal Weapon movies in particular. Also, you know, they’re both comedies. You’re supposed to be laughing when you watch them.
Why is Airplane! overrated?
Back when Airplane! came out the concept of a movie that makes fun of other movies was pretty original. Unfortunately, none of that creativity makes its way into any other aspect of the film’s humor. It’s not so much that the references are dated, anyone who isn’t a filmgoing Philistine should still get the majority of the reference gags, it’s just that all the other jokes this movie makes are so obvious, so first thing that anyone would think of, that they play as your grandpa’s version of satirical comedy.
And seeing as a lot of what Airplane’s gags have to offer is racism, sexism, or just general bigotry, the fact that they are no longer funny makes a lot of what you’re watching come off as crass and unpleasant. Take the, “Oh stewardess, I speak jive,” bit. It basically boils down to the hacky standup routine of “black people talk like this, and white people talk like this.” There’s really no clever observations going on there at all, and it comes off cheap. The same principle applies when a gay guy, when asked to describe an airplane that may crash land, only describes how it’s decorated. Or when the turbulence makes the ladies with big chests’ boobs jiggle. Is there even a gag there at all? I appreciate the chance to look at some boobs, but at least come up with a joke involving them if you’re going to shoehorn them in. And if you’re going to poke fun at gay guys, then just saying that gay people like to decorate things isn’t going to cut it. You can get away with pretty much anything in a comedy as long as you’re funny, but if all you have to offer is obvious jokes that someone’s ignorant uncle could come up with, suddenly you just look like a jerk.
Really, I just can’t understand what everyone still finds so funny about this one. Some of the wordplay is still funny, but it’s the kind of funny where you smirk to yourself at mild cleverness, not the sort where you’re laughing out loud. Maybe that wouldn’t be a problem if there was a compelling story to go along with all of the too-obvious-to-work clunkers we have to sit through, but the plane whose crew gets sick leading to a passenger performing the landing plot is so paper thin that it’s only the most rickety of frameworks for the jokes to rest on. Really this plays more like a series of vignettes than anything else. Show any of these scenes alone and out of context and they work just as well as they do in the middle of this story.
Why is Loaded Weapon underpraised?
With as much crap as this movie gets for sucking you would think that it didn’t have any talented actors in it whatsoever, but the main performances are great. Emilio Estevez is doing the unhinged guy haunted by his past thing way funnier here than Robert Hays did it in Airplane!. The joke there was that his rambling was so boring people kept killing themselves listening to it, but Estevez’s haunted rambling is so off the wall that it’s hilarious to listen to. And how could you hate on a movie that has Samuel L. Jackson delivering such ridiculous material with a completely straight face? Jackson looking at the rigamortised, screaming corpse of Whoopi Goldberg and saying, “Suicide, huh? She must have caught herself by surprise.” is right up there with any of the absurdism in Airplane!.
And there are way too many amazing guest stars in this movie for it not to be considered a cult classic among movie nerds. Tim Curry absolutely kills it playing an effeminate, German heavy. Only this guy could completely sell the idea of a grown man with a beard posing as a Girl Scout and get away with it. Curry’s career is probably the closest thing we’re ever going to get to seeing Alan Rickman doing big, broad humor. Add in F. Murray Abraham doing a Hannibal Lector parody that kind of made me wish I could see him actually star in The Silence of the Lambs, Phil Hartman and Corey Feldman showing up as a couple of troublemaking rookie cops, William Shatner doing comedy before he became known for it and just started coasting on his persona, and Jon Lovitz with completely ridiculous blonde hair, and this movie is chock full of awesomeness.
I find that Loaded Weapon is a much richer storytelling experience than most spoof movies too. While this could have just aped one of the Lethal Weapon movies’ plots completely, instead it comes up with its own completely ridiculous crime plot. And instead of just sticking to poking fun at Riggs and Murtaugh, we get a lot of stuff here that’s commenting on the action movie genre as a whole. The overblown editing where people fly through the air during explosions and do dozens of flips before hitting the ground is choice. And the lame action movie score that Robert Folk came up with is funny enough to listen to and laugh at on its own. Maybe it’s because I grew up on action movies, but there’s so much stuff I love here. It did the guys crashing through plate glass windows that are being randomly relocated gag before Wayne’s World 2, it did the police chief who screams everything he says gag before Last Action Hero; hell, suddenly I’m realizing that 1993 was a really good year for underrated comedies.
Evening the odds.
Despite any differences we might have regarding these two movies, I think we can all agree that they’re both better than the miserable Friedberg and Seltzer spoofs that have come out over the last decade. Those pieces of dreck work so poorly because of how heavily they rely on parroting the original material they’re supposed to be spoofing. Instead of coming up with a joke about pop culture they just recreate it. These movies fall into that trap once or twice: Airplane! opens with a gag that boils down to essentially, “Hey, remember the Jaws music?” and Loaded Weapon closes with a gag that’s essentially, “Remember when they head-banged in Wayne’s World?” but the problem wasn’t nearly as pronounced back then. As least these movies came up with some of their own material.