Tuesday, March 26, 2013

#953. Spaceballs (1987)

Directed By: Mel Brooks

Starring: Mel Brooks, John Candy, Rick Moranis

Tag line: "May the Schwartz Be With You"

Trivia: President Skroob's name is an anagram of Mel Brooks, the man who plays him

While I thoroughly enjoy Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, the director’s 1987 spoof of Star Wars and the science fiction genre, I also consider it the movie that marked the beginning of the end of his cinematic career, a mixed bag featuring moments of pure hilarity, and others that are dead on arrival.

To avoid an arranged marriage to the eternally sleepy Prince Valium (Jim J Bullock), Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) of the planet Druidia jumps into a shuttlecraft with her robot maid, Dot Matrix (voiced by Joan Rivers), and hightails it to the dark recesses of space, where she becomes the unwitting pawn in an intergalactic showdown. It seems the planet Spaceballs is almost out of fresh air, and has ordered its massive flag ship, Spaceball 1, to capture the Princess and hold her prisoner until Druidia agrees to surrender its oxygen supply. Under the command of the evil Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), Spaceball 1 traps the Princess’s ship in a tractor beam. Yet before they can drag her on-board, she and Dot are rescued by Lone Star (Bill Pullman) and his faithful companion, Barf (John Candy), two pirates who’ve agreed to save the princess in exchange for $1 million space bucks. But Dark Helmet isn’t about to give up his prize so easily, and vows to comb the galaxy in pursuit of Lone Star and the Princess.

Nearly all the laugh-out-loud scenes in Spaceballs feature Rick Moranis’ Dark Helmet, a not-so-thinly veiled take on Darth Vader, the arch-villain of Star Wars. From his ill-advised order that Spaceball 1 jump to Ludicrous Speed (which is faster even than Light Speed) to his inability to differentiate between the ship’s radar system and the coffee machine, Moranis does more than his part to keep the laughs flowing. Brooks himself plays two different characters in Spaceballs: Skroob, the shifty President of planet Spaceballs; and Yogurt, the tiny green alien who’s a master of the mysterious power known as the “Schwartz”, and a whiz when it comes to merchandising. Other highlights include John Candy’s likeably oafish Barf, Lone Star’s half-man, half-dog sidekick (“I’m my own best friend”), and a cameo by John Hurt, reprising his famous scene from Ridley Scott’s Alien, yet with a funnier payoff. The remainder of the movie is a bit uneven; Pullman and Zuniga are fine as the romantic leads, but I could have done without Joan Rivers’ Dot Matrix, who I found very annoying, and an appearance by Dom DeLuise as Pizza the Hut, the unscrupulous trader Lone Star owes money to, didn’t work at all.

Despite not measuring up to Brooks’ earlier outings like The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein, the comedy in Spaceballs is still more hit than miss, and it was the last truly funny film the writer/director would ever make.

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