12 February 2003 | San Franciscan
I'm going to be kind reviewing this one.
HOWARD THE DUCK is one of those movies you have to see to believe.
A whopping boondoggle of sheer notoriety that replaced HEAVEN'S GATE as The Most Embarrassing Miscalculation In Hollywood History, this flick immediately humanized George Lucas; it proved that even he could make a bomb. And that's one of the things that makes it so fascinating--you just sit there, wondering what on earth the man was thinking.
I'm not going to write this with any intent of sarcastically ripping it to shreds, though. I'm going to attempt to both be fair and to express my opinion of it at the same time, mainly because I know that there *are* some folks out there who enjoy it for various reasons.
I'll be honest with you, the moment I heard Lucas was doing this film months in advance (and even then I was convinced the guy telling me was kidding until I saw an article for it in the paper), I rolled my eyes with disgust and didn't see it in the theatres. I saw it when a friend later rented it out of curiosity after it was rushed to video.
So what was it that suddenly possessed me to watch it? Well, I found out that my cousin was in it. You see, my cousin's name is Debbie Carrington (a.k.a. Debbie Lee Carrington), who was an Ewok in RETURN OF THE JEDI as well as a slew of other things, including but not limited to MEN IN BLACK, CAPTAIN EO, TOTAL RECALL (where she got to get on a table in a blonde wig and blast people with a machine gun) and on THE DREW CAREY SHOW ("Mini-Mimi"). So, naturally, I wanted to see this one because I learned of her involvement in it after the fact.
Most people loathe this film, but some like it simply because it's *so* weird in its badness while others genuinely love it for whatever reason. And that's okay. Actually, I kind of got a kick out of it and all its silliness the first time I saw it. We tried to watch it a second time, though, and were bored by it half the way through.
I just now saw it again for the first time since then.
One of the most bizarre things about this movie is how cheap it looks. For all the gobs of cash wasted on it (a record sum), HOWARD THE DUCK looks terrible. And no, I'm not talking about just the duck costume; I'm talking about the overall film, which looks exactly like a low-budget special made for television. Seriously, that's exactly how it looks, and I have no clue as to where the budget went to. I once wondered if it was used to desperately convince the stars involved to be in it, but I doubt it.
And meanwhile... speaking of the stars, I've got to hand it to Lea Thompson. Despite all the oddness here and all the stuff she is asked to do, she handles it all like a real trooper. In fact, this may be the bravest performance she's ever done, especially the bed scene. It also apparently didn't kill her career, thank God. Even though her character isn't at all fitting for a Big City Punkette, critics have nevertheless pointed out that she's still appealing here in her role as Beverly, and I agree. Meanwhile, Jeffery Jones gives quite possibly the strangest performance he's ever done, which is also an oddly effective one.
The biggest problem with the film is its mechanically coy, self-conscious script that has commercialized to death all of the original comic's appeal out of the final result (so what ELSE is new, Hollywood? ;) ). The movie can't decide whether it wants to follow the original concept or sweeten it up to supposedly appeal to a wider audience, and it is badly confused as a result. The movie desperately wants to protect its investment, so much so that the life has been choked out of it. Also, it has a *huge* amount of blah, unimaginatively generic lines ("No more Mr. Nice Duck", "You'll never get away with this", etc.).
But these days, it does have a ridiculous kind of flaky charm, partially because it's such an unbelievable anti-achievement and because it's so incredibly Eighties that it serves as a strong time capsule. And for those reasons and more, HOWARD THE DUCK has earned a place in twentieth century culture.