While romcoms and black comedies may have more sophisticated plots, satires are the films that guarantee us the most laughs. Sometimes you want permission to laugh at movies rather than with them, and satires remind you that familiar movie conventions are strange and sometimes hilarious. We just noticed that one of our all-time favorite Mel Brooks movies has hit Netflix, so without further ado, let's celebrate this nutty genre.
“Airplane!”: Insanity at 20,000 Feet
The bawdy sight gags and astounding one-liners of “Airplane!” run together in a nonstop medley, but I'd like to point out another highpoint of this disaster satire: You can't pick a single MVP in the ensemble. Every actor is perfectly cast and perfectly effing weird. Robert Hays is stone-eyed and slyly ridiculous. Julie Hagerty is a wide-eyed cuckoo. Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, Stephen Stucker, Barbara Billingsley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and even Maureen McGovern (as the singing nun, of course) are mutant-level hilarious here. In fact, if there's one magic ingredient to this quotable jam, it's a bit of comic irony: None of the characters in “Airplane!” ever laugh.
“High Anxiety”: The suspense is slaying me.
Though “Spaceballs” more directly appealed to geeks, “High Anxiety” was the geekiest of Mel Brooks' classic films. Why? It took a closer read of the film to notice Brooks' myriad tributes to Alfred Hitchcock, who'd only completed his final film the year before with “Family Plot.” The performances are incredibly strange. Eat up Cloris Leachman as the deathbot Nurse Diesel (“Those who are late do not get fruit cup”) and the satire grandmaster Madeline Kahn, who skewers Hitchcock blondes with her unhelpfully frantic demeanor.
“Clue”: A bawdy comedy with a Boddy count
Did I mention Madeline Kahn is the grandmaster of satire? Because she sure is. In “Clue,” one of the ookiest cult phenomena of the '80s VHS renaissance, White enters the sinister world of Parker Brothers by playing Mrs. White, a blackmailed vamp whose last husband died “under, shall we say, mysterious circumstances.” Her “flames on the side of my face” speech is a glorious bit of improvisation, but don't forget to celebrate her costars in this takeoff of Christie-type whodunits: Tim Curry is wickedly impish as the butler Wadsworth, the late Eileen Brennan is a hoot as the cawing Mrs. Peacock, and the vivacious Lesley Ann Warren is bad-ass as the scowling madam Mrs. Scarlet.
“The Naked Gun” (and it's two sequels): Get Smarter
All right, get your votes in: What's the single best line in the “Naked Gun” series? My vote is from “33 1/3,” that old stupid doubloon: “Like a midget at a urinal, I was going to have to stay on my toes.” It's juvenile. It's eyeroll-worthy. But coming out of Leslie Nielsen's mouth, it's priceless.
“Galaxy Quest”: The Wrath of Convention Signings
Would Chris Eggertsen shut up about Sigourney Weaver already so that other HitFix staffers can properly worship her? God! “Galaxy Quest” is a blue-rare treat: It's an accurate sci-fi satire that blends comic perfection with actual human insight. Tim Allen and Sigourney were — dare I say it? — kind of a dream team. I'm assuming Leonard Nimoy loved this movie. He was too cool not to.