Howard the Duck

"Bad"

Howard the Duck Review


While fans and naysayers constantly complain about what he's done to a certain galaxy far, far away, few remember another beloved franchise that George Lucas adopted and then left for dead. In 1986, the writer/director/producer was riding high on the success of his Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. Looking for new material to milk, he came across the beloved Marvel Comic character Howard the Duck. Hiring his buddies from American Graffiti, Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, Lucas hoped that he could jumpstart a new series starring the angry, angst-ridden anthropomorphized mallard. What he got instead was one of the worst big screen bungles ever -- and it's still quite bad some 22 years later.

When an experiment in laser beam research goes awry, a talking duck named Howard is whisked away from his home planet and down to Earth. Arriving in Cleveland, Ohio, he meets up with wannabe rock star Beverly Switzler (Lea Thompson), and the two form a fragile friendship. Howard wants to get back home, and his gal pal sets up a meeting with local scientist Phil Blumburtt (Tim Robbins). He in turn contacts Dr. Walter Jenning (Jeffrey Jones) who's in charge of the laser project. As Howard tries to adjust to his new surroundings, there's a bigger problem looming. Seems our avian hero is not the only "alien" contacted by the laser. The evil Dark Overlord of the Universe has been looking for a conduit for taking over the galaxy -- and the beam might just be the answer.

Howard the Duck is the perfect example of excellent original ideas totally taken apart by half-baked Hollywood misinterpretation. Had there not been a cynical, satiric comic featuring a gruff, curmudgeonly quack as a hero, we wouldn't mind the tepid treatment here. This would be just another oddball idea that didn't quite work. No, what makes Howard the Duck the constant butt of a thousand bad movie jokes is the incongruity between the source and the resulting adaptation. Instead of using anything that made writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerick's work resonate, we get the typical Tinseltown fantasy fodder, complete with oversized ambitions, undersized performances, and a reliance on special effects to supposedly save the day.

You can tell the humans are really trying here. Thompson, smack in the middle of her Back to the Future triptych fame, does the best she can with a horribly underwritten role. Dressed like Cyndi Lauper's worst nightmare, she appears lost and purposeless. Robbins doesn't offer much more, "bumbling" being his number one characteristic. Only Jeffrey Jones is given some manner of range, and that's because he becomes "possessed" by the spirit of the Dark Overlord and spends several scenes with glowing red eyes, growling. That just leaves Howard (with voice work from Chip Zien), and like any collection of random little people trapped in a terrible animal costume, our lead is awkward and unappealing.

Of course, the biggest problem here is the total lack of suspendable disbelief. The minute Howard walks into a scene, he's nothing more than a lame mascot for some Podunk MLB farm team. There's no life or energy to the figure, no real means of forgetting that he's just some person in animatronic padding. Even worse, when the Dark Overlord finally arrives in all his stop-motion splendor, the effectiveness of the design makes Howard look even lamer. When dealing with the unusual and odd, you have to have a solid foundation in credibility or everything falls apart. Lacking such integrity and any real ties to the original comic, Howard the Duck retains its shoddy cinematic legacy. It really is that bad.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 110 mins

In Theaters: Friday 1st August 1986

Budget: $35M

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Production compaines: Universal Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 14%
Fresh: 6 Rotten: 37

IMDB: 4.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Beverly Switzler, as Dr. Walter Jenning, as Phil Blumburtt, as Howard T. Duck, Dominique Davalos as Cal, Cherry Bomb, as K.C., Cherry Bomb, Liz Sagal as Ronette, Cherry Bomb, as Lieutenant Welker

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