Friday, February 24, 2012

“They Don’t Call It the Cockpit for Nothing, Honey.”

Every one of the Airport movies is its own beast. And The Concorde ... Airport 79 couldn’t be more different from its predecessors. This thing opens like an episode of The Love Boat... Robert Wagner, Eddie Albert, John Davidson, Martha Raye, Cicely Tyson, Avery Schreiber, Sybil Danning, Sylvia Kristel, Jimmie Walker, and Charo! And plays out like some horrible made-for-TV movie.

Federation Airlines has purchased the Concorde, and it’s making its maiden flight from Dulles International in D.C., to Moscow by way of Paris on a pre-Olympics goodwill tour. Aboard are members of the U.S.S.R. Olympic gymnastics team, the head of Federation Airlines and his trophy wife, Jimmie Walker as a tokin’ saxophonist, and the terminally incontinent Martha Raye. There are also a couple of reporters on board: John Davidson’s is in love with the star Russian gymnast, but the one you really want to keep an eye on is Susan Blakely’s Maggie Whelan. She’s the girlfriend of Robert Wagner’s weapons manufacturer and illegal arms dealer Kevin Harrison.

Whelan has learned about Harrison’s dirty dealings and is duty-bound to expose him. Instead of silencing her discretely, Harrison opts for a Goldfinger-scaled plot that involves attempting to bring down the Concorde by firing one of Harrison Industries’ surface-to-air Buzzard missiles at it, having an F-4 Phantom attack it, and sabotaging the cargo hold to open during flight causing the plane to rip apart. Thankfully, Federation Airlines hired Joe Patroni to pilot this bird, because only on his capable shoulders could the passengers and crew make it through.

During the Buzzard attack, Patroni is able to evade the missiles through his skill and sheer force of will, and by that I mean he executes perfect barrel rolls. Now, Patroni is the only character we see in all four Airport movies, but this is the first time we see him in the cockpit in the air. And it was at this point that the kiddo turned to me and stated with that mix of deadpan and sincerity that only a 10-year-old could pull off, “Patroni’s a really good flyer.”

As atrocious as the special effects in this thing are even when dialing back to era-appropriate expectations, it’s the credibility-stretching logic that really does it in. Thankfully, Patroni knows everything about the attacking fighter planes and the weapons being fired at them. To evade the heat-seeking missiles during the F-4 Phantom attack after making it to French airspace, Patroni decides his best course of action is to depressurize the plane, open a cockpit window, and stick his arm out while zipping along at Mach 2 to fire a flare.

I’ll wait a moment while you let that sink in. Got it? Ok.

When the flare gun jams, Patroni brings his unharmed and amazingly still attached arm back inside the cabin and promptly accidentally fires a flare inside the cockpit. (Cue The Breakfast Club quote.) It damages some hydraulics and equipment, but otherwise they’re all fine. Patroni then elects to cut the engines to evade the remaining missiles, pulling out of a nosedive that the fighter jet can’t. With the reverse thrusters damaged from the errant flare, Patroni executes an emergency landing in Paris with runway nets and emergency brakes.

We learn that Patroni’s wife (Webster’s mom from back in ’75) has recently died in a car crash – I guess even with all the air travel mayhem that seems to follow old’ Joe around, planes really are safer than cars! During the stopover in Paris, the French co-pilot offers to set Patroni up on a date that evening. Patroni accepts because he’s nothing if not a smouldering hunk o’ masculinity, and after dinner this playa bags the girl on a rug in front of a roaring fire under a satin comforter. Then three minutes later goes back for more!

Again, let me give you a moment to either let that sink in or try to scour that image out of your brain with some mental bleach. Ok?

Next day, back in the cockpit, Patroni’s co-pilot buddy informs him that his date was actually a prostitute. And everyone has a good laugh (as you do in such a situation).

While Patroni was getting his freak on, Harrison was working on his latest plan to get rid of the incriminating documents his reporter girlfriend has in her possession. Harrison arrives in Paris and meets with Whelan, who informs him she’s going to run the story as soon as she gets to Moscow. Instead of efficiently killing her when they’re alone, Harrison figures it would be better to destroy the entire plane and its passengers and dispatches a henchman to rig the luggage door to open remotely mid-flight and rip the plane apart.

The door opens en route from Paris to Moscow and the plane does start to come apart at the seams, prompting the pilot to exclaim, “We’ve got explosive decompression!” and Eddie Albert – still strapped into his seat – plugs the hole in the floor of the plane by falling into it.

The craft is hemorrhaging fuel and doesn’t have enough to make it to Innsbruck. Thankfully, Patroni’s co-pilot has skied in the Alps and knows the terrain well. He radios ahead to a nearby ski patrol that mobilizes and marks a makeshift landing strip and sets up a triage hospital in record time. Patroni belly flops the Concorde into the snow, at which point the kiddo turns to me and declares, “That plane’s a survivor!”

Broadcasting from the crash site, Whelan reports that she also has a breaking story on Harrison Industries. From his private jet, Harrison watches news coverage of the plane’s miraculous landing and his girlfriend’s announcement, and puts a bullet in his head. We then learn that the fuel tank has ruptured and the pressure of the snow the Concorde’s buried under is going to make it explode. Presumably saving everyone the trouble of figuring out how to get the husk of the plane out of the Alps. Huge explosion. Fade to black.

I can easily find reasons to recommend Airport, Airport 1975, and Airport ’77, but there really isn't anything good to say about The Concorde ... Airport ’79. In fact, its only redeeming quality was pointed out by the kiddo. I asked him which of the four movies he liked the best, and he shocked me by saying, “The Concorde," and when I asked him why, he told me "because nobody died in this one. Except the bad guy who killed himself at the end. But all the passengers made it this time!” Yeah, I guess he's right. That Patroni is a really good flyer.