Monday, September 22, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Howard the Duck (1986) *

PG, 110 min.
Director: Willard Huyck
Writers: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, Steve Gerber (Marvel comic book character)
Starring: Lea Thompson, Ed Gale, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins, Paul Guilfoyle
Voice: Chip Zien

So the big credit cookie in this summer’s blockbuster Marvel hit “Guardians of the Galaxy” featured an obscure Marvel character who has already had his shot at a feature film. “Howard the Duck” has gone down as one of the worst flops in movie history. Executive produced by George Lucas, the late summer release in 1986 was panned by critics and ignored by audiences, for some pretty good reasons. The biggest of which is that it really is horrible.

Now, because it was supposed to be horrible, I never bothered to watch it at that point in time, but when Howard showed up in a pretty funny cameo in the credit cookies of “Guardians”, I figured that maybe it was time to check it out. It was an opportunity let my kids in on an in-joke of “Guardians”, as well. I think they would’ve appreciated being left out of the loop on this one.

Our family watches a film together almost every week. It’s usually a family oriented movie, although we’ve ventured into some more adult fare with some of the comic book and sci-fi franchises that have been popular lately. “Howard the Duck” was probably the most uncomfortable screening we’ve ever held. First of all it was so bad only two of us—the diehards—made it through the entire movie. I gotta give Jack props for soldiering through. We lost the other three pretty early on. It seemed to get better by the end of the movie, after it moved on from its duck out of water approach and turned into a fantasy/action film. That part still wasn’t good, but it was so much better than the first half.

That first half is what really made me uncomfortable. The movie was rated PG at the time of its release. PG-13 was the new rating on the scene at that point and filmmakers still weren’t sure they wanted their movies saddled with it. They feared losing the all ages audience. I would guess Lucas argued that the material here was all right for kids because it involved a duck instead of real humans. Yeah, well, this movie would be a fairly hard PG-13 even today. There is duck nudity made to look like human nudity. Howard is really a foul fowl. He’s a little softer here than in his comic book, but the intension is clear. This movie wants to be very adult. Sex is a dominant subject. Innuendo is blatant. And it would work better if they’d just let Howard’s dialogue sway into the obscene. As it is, the jokes are half-baked between vulgar and 4-year-old style silliness. And the dialogue is just plain bad.

What critics and audiences didn’t know at that time was how much worse this film would play 30 years down the line. This is one of those 80s movies that you look at and can’t believe what we allowed ourselves to look like and what terrible taste we tolerated at the time. I mean really—the hair, the clothes, the music—what were we thinking? I do have to admit, however, I’m still harboring a pretty hefty crush on Lea Thompson.

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