Starring: Lea Thompson, Tim Robbins, Jeffrey Jones and David Paymer
What a clusterduck! People have different assumptions about what was the beginning of the end for the reign of the Galactic Lucas-Empire. When Return of the Jedi closed out George Lucas’ first Star Wars trilogy in 1983, he was rightfully seen as one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. The man could do no wrong. Even after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (whose screenplay was written by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, the husband/wife duo who penned Howard The Duck as well) was released to semi-negative reviews by both critics and parents who objected to the overall dark tone of the film, it ended up grossing over $333 million worldwide. However, when trying to look for answers as to when his crazy ideas started to fail (which would eventually lead to the creation of Jar-Jar, among others), I really don’t think you need to look much further than the duck which is the star of this movie. A hereby mess of a film, Howard the Duck misses on all counts, and was literally the first time people left theaters thinking to themselves, “hey George. What the duck were you thinking?”
Howard the Duck has the distinction of being classified as one of the worst films ever made. When thinking back on whether or not it deserves that title, I decided to revisit it. Does this movie, which I couldn’t even get through as a 9 year old kid, deserve this reputation? Or, is it, as Lucas has stated multiple times, a film that is looked at as being too harshly criticized at the time and be, in turn, an overlooked 80s gem? Folks, even I, a sucker for bad 80s films, have to say: Howard the Duck deserves each and every negative word said about it. Looking at this waddling nympho title character talk and imagining the headaches post production must have had synching the words (an impossible task when looking at the suit’s design), one must wonder the obvious question: why wasn’t this animated? If Lucas was so adamant about this comic being funny, why not bring it to life in a way that, in 1986, would have been believable? After all, the Transformers franchise did it with an animated feature earlier in the year (with similar box office results, I might add).
What is so odd about Howard the Duck, is that, unlike not just a Lucas production, but ANY production, there is literally not one thing that is redeemable about it. Thompson (who plays Beverly, the only other character from the Marvel Comic this was based on) looks embarrassed to be there, as most of the time her line deliveries sound like they are fresh from a female Friday the 13th victim. The only real times she sells me are during the singing scenes (not great, but serviceable) and in instances where she has to act like she has affection for Howard. It was actually sweet (and, might I add, very hot) when she is in pink night clothes trying to seduce him. To the point where I almost believe her. That’s right, I said almost. Robbins is an utter embarrassment, overreacting and over annunciating almost every single line he is given. Thank God he had Bull Durham in the near future as well. Jones (who, later in the film, is the victim of the only horrible sound designs of Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt’s career) is fine in his role, even if I have no idea what his intentions are. However, in a way I do not blame these actors. Lucas was, as already stated, three years removed from Jedi and could literally do no wrong. And, if I were any one of these actors getting a call from the man himself asking if I wanted to be in his next project, you bet that I would sign that dotted line. After all, Harrison Ford fretted about the dialogue in Star Wars. Why can’t the dialogue said here work as well?
Once we are away from Duck World and Howard is forced to try and adapt to society, we are then fed into the second half, which is the more comic booky, but even, if you can believe it, worse part of the film. I ask again: how in the world could people be looking at what Lucas (yes, I realize he didn’t direct this but his name is all over it. So, all Lucas-ites out there, get over yourselves) was doing here, and not utter the words ‘just stop.’ From multiple meaninglessly bad ‘Quack-Fu’ fights to a Jones transformation into the Dark Overlord, there were absolutely no shortage of reasons to pull the plug here. Yet, even with a real bad script and an inexperienced Huyck directing, executives were obviously thinking that Lucas would once again wave his magic wand and make it work. Another thing that surprised me in watching Howard the Duck again was just how racy it was. If people thought Temple of Doom was bad, they were in for a shock as there are duck breasts, open condoms and Howard working at a brothel, a scene that more than once had some ‘almost’ nudity. It was inconceivably shocking what they were allowed to get away with here. One shutters at the thought of what the reaction to these scenes would have been had the film been a hit.
So, there you have it. I wish I could say, in revisiting Howard The Duck, that I see it as a misjudged film that was ahead of its time (much like Tron’s concept). I can’t, folks. This movie is not, I repeat, not worth a first, second, or third look after two decades of it festering. Howard the Duck almost bankrupted Lucas for good. And, in looking back, one can definitely see why. This film was not just a bad ‘duck out of water tail.’ It was not a misunderstood un’billed’ cult classic. It is just an utter mess. Another coincidence in looking back on this movie is thinking about the fact that not two years later, Robert Zemeckis would put together a cartoon/live action combo that would go on to gross millions in the name of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. How would Steve Gerber’s Marvel creation fare in that type of film? Well, I guess we will never know, will we? Unless, someone somewhere, creates 4 words that would make me shutter and duck for cover: Howard The Duck Remake.
.5 out of 5