Thursday, May 1, 2014

#1,354. Howard the Duck (1986)

Directed By: Willard Huyck

Starring: Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins

Tag line: "More adventure than humanly possible"

Trivia: This was the first theatrical release based on a Marvel Comics character since the Captain America serial of 1944

As I mentioned in yesterday’s write-up of Harry and the Hendersons, I paid a visit (albeit briefly) to the Hollywood area back in August of 1986, which happened to be when Executive Producer George Lucas’s sci fi / comedy Howard the Duck first hit theaters. As we were driving through town, we noticed a ton of Howard the Duck posters (they seemed to be everywhere), and at one point even passed a huge billboard promoting the film. I’ll never forget my father’s reaction when he caught a glimpse of that billboard:

Howard the DUCK ?!?”, he said. “You’ve GOT to be shitting me!

I laughed, yet at the same time realized my dad had no idea who Howard the Duck was, or that he had his own Marvel comic book series (while certainly not the biggest Howard the Duck fan, I did have a couple of his comics, which I enjoyed). I never got a chance to see Howard the Duck on the big screen, but did watch it a few years later, when it made its way to cable TV. Oddly enough, my reaction to the movie was similar to the one my father had when he saw that billboard.

Oh, George Lucas… you’ve GOT to be shitting me!

On a far-off planet, there exists a world very much like our own, with one exception: it’s populated entirely by ducks. On a night like any other, Howard T. Duck (played by 6 different men, women, and children, and voiced by Chip Zien) returns home from a long day at the office. He listens to his phone messages, has a seat in his favorite recliner, and is then sucked through space by an unknown force, which drags him all the way to planet earth and drops him smack-dab in the middle of Cleveland. 

Once there, Howard meets Beverly Switzler (Lea Thompson), the lead singer of a local punk band, and despite the differences in their species, the two become fast friends. Hoping to find a way to get Howard back to his planet, Beverly takes him to see Phil Blumburtt (Tim Robbins), a lab assistant, who eventually introduces the homesick duck to noted scientist Dr. Walter Jenning (Jeffrey Jones). 

As it turns out, it was Dr. Jenning, aided by his dimension-jumping ray, who accidentally dragged Howard to earth in the first place. Dr. Jenning believes he can reverse the process and send Howard home, but during a trial run, another galactic being is inadvertently drawn to earth: The Dark Overlord of the Universe, who, after inhabiting Dr. Jenning’s body, makes plans to take over the world. Can Howard save planet earth from destruction? Will he ever find his way home?

One of the main criticisms aimed at Howard the Duck over the years was the filmmaker’s decision to bring their title character to life via live-action, as opposed to animation. While this is definitely a problem (Howard never looks like anything more than a small person in a duck costume), what really sunk Howard the Duck was its terrible story (see synopsis above), not to mention its nauseatingly awful duck-related one-liners; when Howard is cornered by some thugs, he tries to scare them off by telling them he’s an expert in “Quack-Fu” (I kid you not… he actually said that). But the groans don't end there. When Beverly looks in Howard’s wallet, she finds a “Bloomingduck’s” credit card, and at the beginning of the movie, while still on his home planet, Howard thumbs through a copy of “Playduck” magazine. I can’t think of a single situation in which any of these so-called “jokes” would have been funny. 

Worst of all, Howard the Duck, despite its insane plot, is actually kinda lifeless, and even a little boring. Scenes drag on way too long (one sequence, set in a diner, felt like it would never end), and there’s a chase towards the end of the film, where Howard and Phil attempt to elude the police in an ultralight plane, that generates no excitement whatsoever.

Howard the Duck might not have been Marvel’s greatest comic series, but I'm betting any single issue was more imaginative, and a lot more entertaining, than this stinker of a movie.


Anthony Lee Collins said...

I was a big fan of Howard the Duck when it was being published, but the point of the book was social commentary and satire -- both of which are obviously completely missing from the movie. That being said, the movie was okay for the first two thirds or so, I thought, but then it got really loud and tedious at the end. Turning it into a juvenile comedy didn't bother me as much as turning it into a moronic action film.

Christian said...

Yes. You nailed the action sequence chase. Big budget, high concept borefest. I was shocked I was bored by what was happening. But I actually snoozed when the police chased the hang-glider thing. First half had absurdity hopes and then it all collapsed.

Steve_Green said...

The dreadful puns originated in the comic, so that part of this disaster can't be 100% blamed on the film-makers.

James Robert Smith said...

I think it's easy to say that this movie ruined Lea Thompson's career. This was pretty much it for her for anything but being able to play someone named McFly.