Howard the Duck
Reviewed by Arno Mikli
Rating: 8 Beans
his reviewer does not know all that much about Howard the Duck, despite his having read quite a few comic books in his time. He does know that Howard is a obscure Marvel Comics creation, (allergedly popular in the 1970s) and an odd choice for portrayal on the big screen as a followup to the likes of the Incredible Hulk and Spiderman.
The film tells the story of how a inhabitant of another universe, (Howard of course) is accidentally transported into Cleveland,Ohio as the result of a space experiment that went wrong. He eventually gets to lock swords with another , nastier , alien who is transported into this universe as part of a followup experiment. After all this, he gets to be a manager in a rock band. This does not sound very promising. It gets worse.
So what was wrong with the end produck-t, er, product?
For one thing, there's the hero himself. He is supposed to look like a alien duck from another universe. He in fact looks like a person in a duck suit (well, actually, eight people in duck suits, as 8 different midgets, male and female, play him at differing parts of the movie). Overall, he looks as convincing as Fozzie Bear playing a real grizzly bear. The various street punks that we see at the start of the film do a better job of looking like alien life forms than Howard does. The one thing that this reviewer liked about him was that his one-liners had an occasional likability about them.
Then there's the numerous bird-brained jokes that come along with this character. They are especially in evidence at the start of this film, where we discover movie posters in his apartment featuring such epics as "My Little Chickadee", starring W.C.Fowls, and films featuring Indiana Drake. WE come across Rolling Egg and Playduck magazine, as yes, guys you get to see the centerfold in the latter. But take this reviewer's word for it, it's not worth looking at. Later we get to see the inside of Howard's wallet, which includes such items as Bloomingduck credit cards and dollar bills (pun unintended) showing George Washington with a duck bill. (In some versions, you also get to see a condom.) Howard himself is from Marshington and practices quack fu. There's more, but this reviewer will spare you those.
The supporting characters in this chunk of celluoid are not inspiring ones. There's Beverly Switzler (Lea Thompson), a rock singer with woeful dialog who develops a romantic liking for this ornithological character, and quickly takes to calling him 'Ducky'. In one abysmal scene, she even tries to seduce him in bed with such lines as "Do you feel that I can find happiness in the animal kingdom?" and "Let's go for it, Mr Macho!". The romance between Bev and Howard, such as it is, is a definite nadir in this film filled with low points. It may have been great 1970s comic book satire, but it made woeful 1980s moviemaking. It will be left to you, dear reader, to work out which of the two has the worse of the two lines in this charming scene:
Bev : "I just bet you were born from a very hard-boiled egg, Ducky!"
Howard : "Yes, I do keep wondering , of all the alleys I could've fallen into that night, why did it have to be yours?" (Humphrey Bogart, er Boduck, should sue!)
Dr Jennings (Jeffrey Jones) is the scientist who inadvertantly bought Howard to earth. Jones does fine as Dr Jennings, but when he starts portraying a man possessed by an evil alien, he's not so fine. Admittedly , it can be quite difficult to play the part of an alien from another universe-in-a-human with characteristics such as a silly crackly voice and acid-like saliva, the power to levitate and destroy objects ranging from condiment bottles to a row of cars, knowledge of what a million kilowatts of power is and the ability to absorb it, a good understanding of the English language and US road laws (or at least Ohio's road laws), the ability to drive a truck and a liking for young female hostages. The said evil alien , by the way, is a Dark Overlord of the Universe.
Phil Plumburtt (Tim Robbins) is the Jerry Lewis-like friend of Beverley and , eventually, Howard. He's best described as brave and silly. The nadir of several awful appearances is probably when he gives a lecture on duck evolution in Howard's home world.
Worthy of mention, if not necessarily that of scorn, is a waitress at an establishment called Joe Romo's Cajun Sushi (Jodi Mclain), who has some memorable lines of her own, such as "Hostility is like a psychic boomerang". No doubt in accordance to this bit of philosophy, Howard is soon on the receiving end of an angry mob at that restaurant.
Also worthy of some scorn are the police in the film who repeatedly demonstrate great difficulties in arresting and holding onto suspects. This reviewer was reminded of the quick-witted constabulary from "Plan 9 from Outer Space". The most spectacular incident that demonstrates this is when Howard and a handcuffed Phil assemble a small aeroplane in broad daylight ... just a few hundred metres away from where the police, already on the lookout for Howard, are interviewing witnesses to the near-lynching at Joe Romo's that Howard had been caught up in earlier. None of Ohio's finest (or should that be not-so-finest) notice anything at all over a period of what must've been several hours (from nighttime to mid or late morning), including the fact that their own handcuffed suspect is missing.
Also reminiscent of "Plan 9" (and its tendency to replay scenes) was a portion of the chase scene that develops when the police finally notice Howard in the plane and set about pursuing him. At one point, Howard flies across a lake and causes several duck hunters to jump into it. Two scenes , involving five hunters splashing into the lake , looks suspiciously as though it is the same same scene shot twice from different angles. This reviewer has now replayed the two scenes several times, and can say that the background looks very similar and that both feature one fellow in a pale coat landing on his back with a gun pointing upwards. The other four appear so briefly and vaguely that, even in slow motion, that it is difficult to compare their features with certainty.
One last problem with this film worthy of mention are the remarkable coincidences. There was the convienient coincidence mentioned before, where a small constructable aeroplane just happened to be nearby when Phil and Howard needed one. Later we discover the the very convienent presence of a disintegration machine at the space laboratory, so tough that even a portion of its shielding can repel rays that can destroy a whole row of cars. It come in very handy indeed during the climax of this film set at that laboratory, in which Howard, Bev and Phil have their showdown with the Dark Overlord.
Not surprisingly in view of all the above, the makers of this movie has some trouble selling this film to the public. So much so, that they changed the name of this film from "Howard the Duck" to "Howard...A new Breed of Hero". They could have renamed this film anything they wanted, including "Howard the Australian Prime Minister" and it would not have saved this birdbrained mess from the commercial and critical savaging that it did get.
Actually, this reviewer forced himself to watch this film a second time , in order to see if there were any accidental Australian political angles in it. For instance, it would have been fascinating if the device that bought Howard to Earth had been called something like the Galaxian Space Transporter (or GST), particularly when one considers the strong interest that Howard develops in it. However, and this is perhaps quite fortunate, there are no major political jokes or angles to be derived from it. Mr Howard's political foes would probably get some enjoyment from seeing Howard the Duck working in a massage parlour or being trussed up on a kitchen table with a stick of celery in his mouth . not to mention Phil's evolution speech mentioned earlier ("He begins to develop...cromagnon duck...He eventually evolves into Howard!!!!"). Mr Howard's political allies , however, would take heart from the fact that Howard is a hero who can stand up to bullies and angry mobs, stick to the straight and narrow , protect the environment against hunters (well, kind of) and successfully defend the world against the forces of darkness. Both, however, would groan at lines such as " No duck is an island. If fate sent me here, then Howard the Duck is ready to fight!"
Ah, there is nothing like a good film on a minor 1970s satirical comic book character and this was nothing like a good film on a minor 1970s satirical comic book character. It is no doubt safe to assume that both Marvel Comics and Hollywood would breathe great sighs of relief if a space teleporter could zap this film and all its copies and negatives into some dark corner of the universe .... preferably where there are no Dark Overlords to antagonise.
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