In a nutshell:- It's a movie filled with brilliantly bad puns and visual jokes but that's not important right now.
The Basics:- Having written a sketch-style TV-based spoof in the form of Kentucky Fried Movie, Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker decided to turn their hands to directing with a spoof of a 1950s film called Zero Hour! (and also of plane-based disaster films in general). And with that simple decision, they created a slice of movie comedy gold. The gags come thick and fast and the performances are played straight for the most part, which just adds to the comedy.
Why's It So Great Then?:- The simple answer? It's extremely funny, even after all these years (29 years old this year) and, for me, it's the sort of film where I discover something new each time I watch it. Having watched the film many a time since I was a wee nipper, the joy in rewatching it has come from suddenly getting jokes that I didn't get when I was younger or noticing some bit of business going on in the background that I hadn't noticed before. In many ways, it's one of the forerunners of the sort of humour that shows like The Simpsons employ in which multiple viewings are rewarded with all those little background details that you may not have noticed before. Also, as all good comedies should be, it's immensely quotable.
Surely Some Of It Must Be Rubbish:- OK, so some of the gags do fall a little flat occasionally but the beauty of Airplane! is that the hit rate is so high that you can forgive the odd misfire and, if one joke didn't quite work, there'll be three more along in a minute that will tickle your funny bone.
So We Should Seek Out This thing Of Which You Speak?:- Absolutely.* You also can't go far wrong by watching Police Squad (In Color), the first Naked Gun film and Top Secret as well - all brought to you by the Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker team. Airplane II has some good gags too but I didn't realise until doing a bit of research just now that it wasn't made by them at all** - they felt they'd made all the gags they had to make on the subject and passed on the sequel. You learn something new every day...
* Maybe I should retitle this last section on these. Let's face it, having waxed lyrical about my subject, I'm hardly likely to turn round and say no, am I?
** Particularly odd as I'm one of those oh-so-dreary film buff types who actually looks at people's names in the credits and yet I've failed to spot this. One film geek demerit to me...