What happens when you take a relatively big budget for a comedy ($16 million), a tried-and-true comic vehicle in the plane from which no one can escape, and a handful of actors clearly having fun? Apparently, you get 86 minutes of silliness ranging from sweet to raunchy aimed at the “mature” audience who hasn’t outgrown poop jokes. You might hope for a little more originality and a less slap-dash ending, maybe even for some breadth, insight, and bite. It’s not there. But you might be able to dial your hopes down enough to forgive all that and find some enjoyment in the movie’s cheerful vulgarity and the pleasure it takes in stomping on any notion of political correctness.
When Nashawn Wade (Kevin Hart) has a horrific flying experience involving the dual traumas of getting partially sucked into the airplane toilet and watching his dog get sucked into the plane’s jets, he sues the uptight, white airline and sets out to make a difference with his $100 million settlement. His life-long fascination with airplanes drives him to start “NWA” (his initials helpfully echo those of the iconic ‘80’s gangsta rappers), the first airline aimed broadly at African Americans, but more particularly at “playas”.
Nashawn joins a motley crew of characters on NWA’s first flight from LA to New York, aboard the pimped-out, purple plush plane piloted by Captain Mack (Snoop Dogg, as ever the definition of cool). By accident, the Hunkee (pronounced “honkey”) family of passive-aggressive father (Tom Arnold), father’s blond and busty girlfriend, Barbara (Missi Pyle), rebellious daughter and father-imitating young son end up on NWA due to a mix-up after their vacation to “Crackerland”.
Other passengers include Nashawn’s doe-eyed former high school sweetheart (K.D. Aubert), a libidinous couple intent on cementing their membership in the Mile High Club, a blind man (John Witherspoon) who mistakes a baked potato for the willing lap of his female neighbor, and a male model whose most notable physical (ahem) attribute is discussed in great detail. The crew of the plane run the character gambit from A to B, with flight attendants including a Latina hottie (well captured by Sofia Vergara), and two female security guards, who are so funny they could easily have their own sit-com (the comediennes, Mo’Nique Imes-Jackson and Sommore).
Of course, the ride gets bumpy along the way to the East Coast. The Hunkee daughter turns 18, prompting a dance party in the impossibly huge upper deck, much to the distress of her protective father. Captain Mack, afraid of heights, is incapacitated by drugs, co-pilot Gaeman (Godfrey) is the victim of a hot-tub mishap, leaving Nashawn to take responsibility for landing the plane safely and tie-up all the loose ends into a happy conclusion. The biggest and best joke of the movie is the plane itself, with First Class a palatial area worthy of MTV’s Cribs and “Low” Class a close cousin to a run-down city bus complete with Colt 45 ads, overhead handles to grip and lockers which require a quarter to open.
This movie has a heart, even if it has three sizes yet to grow. Nashawn and his ex-girlfriend have a tender scene where he explains why he left her to not stand in her way. Mr. Hunkee and his daughter have an open discussion about why she is mad at him and what she is doing (and, more importantly, not doing) in order to rebel against him.
Novice writers Bo Zenga and Chuck Wilson join second-time director, Jessy Terrero, to create this visually entertaining and often funny spoof which gleefully revisits the same airspace covered in Airplane. The jokes range from packaged to fresh, but the most engaging aspect of the comedy is the fun the cast is clearly having on the set.
Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of vulgar humor and crude material that may be offensive to some audiences. They should be very cautious in determining whether it is appropriate for their families. There is a thin line walked in this movie between breaking down stereotypes with humor and perpetuating them to get a cheap laugh, and this movie crosses over that line several times. The movie includes strong, frequent profanity, with just about all references to women are the b-word and all men are referred to by the n-word. The treatment of the movie’s gay character is a lip-sticked caricature, the target — not the source — of punch lines. There is a high level of very explicit sexual humor throughout the film. Sexual acts are described in great detail, and a frolicking couple attempt to have sex in every area of the plane. Characters partake of drugs, drink heavily to drown sorrows, and refer to “playa” lifestyles in nothing but positive terms.
On the other hand, Nashawn’s decision to do give something back to the community and to take responsibility for his actions is an important theme of the movie.
Families should discuss how some of the other characters respond to his decisions and how the other characters do or do not take responsibility themselves. Families could choose five different characters and discuss the stereotypes that they represent, in particular how these caricature might limit how we see the person as a whole. Also, what value does humor have in this movie for tackling issues that are difficult to discuss?
Families that enjoy this movie should rent its inspiration, Airplane, which has mature comic themes in addition to plenty of easy laughs. For those looking for more intelligent comedy similarly focused on urban humor, Barbershop is an excellent choice. Also, Undercover Brother is recommended for families looking for a good spoof movie.