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2 reviews, 67 user ratings

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Howard the Duck
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Unspeakably bad."
1 stars

First of all, let's get one thing straight. “Howard the Duck,” in its peak years from 1975-1978, was the best newsstand Big Two comic book of the '70s (the Big Two being Marvel and DC). To read this deconstruction of superhero clichés at an impressionable age was to have your eyes peeled to the falsehood of socially defined "heroism" forever.

As scripted by Marvel madman Steve Gerber, Howard was a satirical vehicle with which to puncture the excesses of an excessive era. That he was a talking duck in a comic book made him that much more subversive; the best satire doesn't always come shrink-wrapped and labelled "Serious Satire for Adult Intellectuals" — sometimes it comes in an innocuous, even ludicrous guise, and then sucker-punches you. Gerber used Howard as his Gulliver, his indictment of the madness of the '70s and the emptiness of his own profession.

One of the comic's best bits was its take-off of Star Wars, so it was ironic that George Lucas produced 1986's $35 million Howard the Duck movie, which has the dubious distinction of being the worst movie of a particularly bad decade for movies (adapted from the best comic of a particularly good decade for comics). Whatever made George think that Howard the Duck could have worked as a live-action film remains a mystery. Seven actors in plastic-looking duck suits expend a lot of energy failing to achieve the suspension of disbelief that an animated feature (Ralph Bakshi would've been ideal) could have managed easily.

The movie's plot departs from the comic in so many ways that I won't even bother to enumerate them; none of the changes are improvements. It begins with Howard on his own world, where talking ducks are the norm. His apartment is festooned with movie posters and magazines (Rolling Egg, Breeders of the Lost Stork) that are meant to be funny alternate-universe puns but are just lame. He is whisked away to Earth, lands in an alley, and is attacked by a gang of dated-looking punkers who drag him into a club. Though he's helpless in this scene, he somehow is able to use "quak-fu" one scene later when defending a woman from two punks.

That woman is Lea Thompson (with huge crimped hair) as Beverly Switzler, lead singer for an all-female band called Cherry Bomb, who play generic mid-'80s pop in what looks like a New Wave punk dive circa 1981. Thompson is one of two actors in the movie who actually come off well. She looks like the Bev of the comics (who was not a pop singer) and sounds like I imagine Bev sounding; she also does her own singing and isn't half bad. Even when she has to wear a skimpy shirt and panties and mock-seduce a plastic duck head, she gives it as much conviction as she can muster. She's such a lightweight comedian anyway that she escapes this mess without being tarnished; you can imagine her laughing it off.

Bev takes Howard to see her friend Phil, who works as a janitor in a laboratory and is played by Tim Robbins in his goofy Hudsucker Proxy mode. The movie got several genuine good laughs out of me (as opposed to bad laughs at the film's expense), and Robbins can take credit for them all. His parodic performance is closer in spirit to Gerber's wigged-out characters than anything in the movie. Robbins' presence also started me off on a mental tangent in which I envisioned Howard the Duck becoming a campy bad audience-participation movie the way his s.o. Susan Sarandon's Rocky Horror did. Maybe to lighten up while making Dead Man Walking, they got stoned and watched Rocky Horror and Howard together.

But for the most part, this is an unspeakably bad film. I can't decide whether Lucas intended to outdo E.T. or to parody it (there's some manufactured poignance when Howard wants to go back to his world and Bev gets teary-eyed). Lucas' cronies, the husband-and-wife team Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz (who wrote American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), wrote the script together; Huyck directed it and Katz produced it. Obviously they read the original comics, because some of the dialogue is either directly quoted from the books or a dumbed-down variation. (When Howard is served fried eggs, he recoils and says "Do I look like a cannibal?" In the comic, he says "Do I give the impression that I'm into infanticide?" Big difference.) But they just as obviously missed the comic's satirical flavor, opting for cheap puns, sophomoric touches like Bev finding a condom in Howard's wallet (a detail reportedly cut from the British print), and the kind of empty pop fantasy that Gerber skewered.

The last third of Howard the Duck is an orgy of ILM effects, some of them halfway decent (Phil Tippett designed a fairly cool monster for the climax), some as cheesy as the duck suits. Jeffrey Jones (the principal in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) turns up as a scientist who is possessed by a "Dark Overlord" after a botched experiment with a laser that was responsible for bringing Howard to Earth in the first place ....

As you can see, the script gets sidetracked into routine pulp "thrills," the effects take over, and the whole embarrassment ends with Howard joining Bev onstage for a rousing rendition of the movie's title song — one of several cringe-worthy tunes written for the film by Thomas Dolby, of all people. Perhaps a Dark Overlord possessed him.

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originally posted: 05/19/06 20:32:16
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User Comments

10/01/19 Fuck this movie gatabombatabuz 1 stars
5/15/15 felix As long as you can get over the cheap duck costume, this movie is solid 5 stars
12/31/14 david froman worst film of the decade 1 stars
11/02/14 Charles Tatum Do not be conned, this movie is among the worst of all time 1 stars
10/09/12 Quigley I'd say it's actually worse than its reputation. Do yourself a favor and avoid at all costs 1 stars
10/10/11 Heather Furmanek Lol funny! A must see. 5 stars
11/20/10 DUKE7734 I think this movie is underrated...I find it is hilarious 4 stars
2/17/10 Jesse S. This is a 1 star movie sober, but a 5 star movie when you're stoned! I LOL'ed!!! 5 stars
12/28/09 Dane Youssef One of the most astonishing bad, hurtfully awful excuses for film there ever was or will be 1 stars
9/04/09 rob lucas should be hanged for this pile of steaming duck sht 1 stars
4/11/08 Jackie One of the best kids films ever. Plus Lea Thompson is really hot in this. 5 stars
3/15/08 Pamela White total garbage 1 stars
2/28/07 hush reminds me of that movie with the chick and the mirrors, member that? 3 stars
1/18/07 lucasallen whoa whoa whoa 3 stars
1/05/07 Sugarfoot Direly inept disaster which like Jack Sommersby, I blame on my low SAT score. 1 stars
12/18/06 David Pollastrini Duck suit looked really bad 1 stars
7/17/06 David Cohen Fake looking duck suit,desperately misses the satirical humor of the comic 1 stars
6/07/06 Carolyn Rathburn Strange, funny, plain weird 4 stars
2/23/06 omar im still wondering why i saw this 1 stars
2/02/06 Jeff Anderson Another great guilty pleasure from the 80's & SURPRISE, it's a lot of fun. Thompson ROCKS!! 5 stars
11/28/05 kyle pretty damn good, got its flaws but, look past that and you got a great film 5 stars
8/12/05 ES the overlord thing was pretty cool looking, plus I liked the concept 4 stars
7/10/05 Corky My favorite guilty pleasure... 4 stars
7/09/04 Garry Not a great plot, not a great adaptation of the comic, but campy and full of quirky humor. 4 stars
5/18/04 gray fun cheese 3 stars
4/17/04 American Slasher Goddess Just horrifying. How the hell did this script ever get approved by Hollywood execs? 1 stars
3/08/04 Sean McLean The original comics were nothing short of brilliant, the movie is fun-filled 80's cheese! 4 stars
1/07/04 Minderbinder It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion, but not as funny. 1 stars
12/16/03 Allison HUH?! What the hell was this? It never made sense to me! 1 stars
4/28/03 Buko I guess people could not see how funny and enjoyable is this movie 4 stars
3/31/03 Jack Sommersby Saw thius opening day when I was 16. So THAT'S why I got only a 740 SAT score!!!!!!!! 1 stars
3/21/03 Jack This crap is what the studios think they can pass off a funny, well it's not 1 stars
3/12/03 Tracy best movie ever made if you don't think so shut the f*ck up i know someone else too!!! 5 stars
2/12/03 deza One of the only thing that made watch this was to hear John Barry's part of the score. 4 stars
2/06/03 jeff 1 of my fav. kids movies growing up. Its 1 of the chessiest movie ever. i love it! 5 stars
1/20/03 UrMom Enjoyable at 12 at night, so bad it spins around to good again..and it has stop motion 5 stars
11/18/02 Dr Sky Tower ABSOLUTE SH*T, don't bother with this unless u want ur braincells to shrivel up 1 stars
8/16/02 Hugh Jass In the right mood it can be funny because of how stupid it is 3 stars
1/12/02 Magnum Craphole Even back when I was 11 I thought Howard the Fuck was moronic beyond belief. 1 stars
1/03/02 Cracked head This is what they make bad people watch in hell. 1 stars
11/29/01 Andrew Carden The Comic Book Was Awesome, but This Movie Is Dull To The Core. 1 stars
11/27/01 Cookie Cutter WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!? 1 stars
10/17/01 Howard Rosenman Crap! 1 stars
9/03/01 Butterbean A cute, cheesy movie. You have to watch it with your goofiest friends. 4 stars
8/11/01 Ryan Kenner Not that bad actually, it is amusing 3 stars
7/20/01 Rolling Thunder One of the worst movies ever made 1 stars
6/06/01 Dean I can't believe some people actually LIKED this movie. It's a disease! 1 stars
5/07/01 Phobos if you voted "Sucks All Ass" you should be shot 5 stars
4/04/01 Monster W. Kung Anyone that thinks this is any better than shit should be shot. FUCK THIS FUCKING MOVIE! 1 stars
3/03/01 Schmendrick The Magician VERY GODAWFUL!!!!!!! 1 stars
2/28/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) Worth a Look...to laugh at how woefully bad it is. No wonder Lucas disowned it. 1 stars
2/23/01 Corbin Dallas cool film, recommended if you like " The 5th Element" and " X-Men". 5 stars
2/19/01 Rainey Roo I just loved this movie as a kid 5 stars
2/12/01 Corbin Dallas WHAT WAS LUCAS THINKING!!!! 1 stars
12/28/00 EvilDead-Ash My God, What people are you on, This Stunked like Hell. 1 stars
5/21/00 foxdvd The worst movie ever made 1 stars
2/11/00 steve layne I loved it as a kid and still like it today but im sort of ashamed I still do. d 4 stars
1/17/00 Jedi15 I actually LOVED this when I was a kid! Still good after all these years. 4 stars
11/28/99 Crystal Fleming Interesting and Fun 5 stars
10/26/99 Karahde Khan Not the best movie ever but highly superior than most movies today. Sadly underrated. 5 stars
9/09/99 Jason Kinsey one word: this is the stupidest piece of shit I've ever seen! Jesus! 1 stars
7/13/99 SID Umm....Tim Robbins was alright.... 2 stars
5/20/99 J. Random Hacker Never understood why this flick has such a bad rep... just don't expect 'Citizen Kane' 4 stars
4/18/99 jimmy jam If you ar ein a coma - then this movie is for you 1 stars
1/15/99 DRMJSP Gave me nightmares when I was little. I LIKE IT!! 4 stars
9/28/98 Marty in St.Louis I must give this movie a good review, it's director is a jedi knight. 5 stars
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