Howard the Duck (1986)
Howard the Duck (1986)

Genre: Superhero Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: August 1st, 1986 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Willard Huyck Actors: Lea Thompson, Tim Robbins, Jeffrey Jones, Paul Guilfoyle, Liz Sagal, Dominique Davalos

 


 

“H

oward the Duck” provides lots of quacking, fluster, and commotion, but no entertainment. What an absolute embarrassment for the profession of filmmaking. Two hours is two hours too long to watch a little guy in a duck suit run around doing unexciting things while blabbering aimlessly. In what duck-filled galaxy would this have been deemed a suitable use of money, time, or effort?

Wild-haired Beverly Switzler (Lea Thompson) supports herself by playing grungy gigs with her band The Cherry Bombs. One dark and humid night, as hostile fans are accosting her, alien duck creature Howard comes to the rescue, having been recently and unexplainably zapped across several galaxies to Cleveland, Ohio. The next day, she takes the strange visitor to Phil Blumburtt (Tim Robbins, in perhaps his worst role), an eccentric mad-scientist museum lab assistant who is determined to help Howard return to his world. For Howard, who is resigned to his new fate on Earth, getting a job is the primary concern – followed by watching out for the newly opened duck-hunting season. Meanwhile, an evil alien invader possesses Dr. Walter Jenning (Jeffrey Jones), the lead scientist on a cross-dimensional transportation device (which caused Howard’s initial relocation), during an attempt to reverse the machine’s capabilities.

With the noirish music and serene apartment setting for the opening scene, “Howard the Duck” is aiming for realism – provided viewers can accept a man in a giant duck suit. In this far off planet, overgrown plastic and rubbery anthropomorphic waterbirds are the inhabitants and fabric of everyday life. It’s essentially an alternate reality, with a magazine like “Playduck” titillating the titular character, until he’s sucked through a cosmic portal to Earth. “I’m a dead duck,” he remarks. Ties and suits are still fashionable for drakes, and Howard is a typical, Chauvinistic, beer drinking, medical school dropout who decided to educate himself on the streets. Everything has a very ridiculous “duck” twist, replacing pictures and words with fowls, mallards, and more, including movie posters, credit cards, and the dollar bill, among other items.

Based on Steve Gerber’s comic book character (a Marvel entity), “Howard the Duck’s” antagonist is the nonsensical Dark Overlord of the universe – along with the cops, who have a low tolerance for wisecracking dabblers. But the conflicts and all of the action scenes are completely anticlimactic. The film also includes lots of ‘80s music to despise, especially as it pops up frequently, while the score by John Barry never emphasizes the adventure, instead blending into the background unnoticeably. Additionally, some rather surprising duck nudity (with relatively human breasts) is briefly shown, along with an almost-sex scene with the duck that shouldn’t (or should) be missed.

There simply isn’t anything in the movie to praise. The dialogue is painfully cheesy, highlighted by a single one-minute sequence in which the filmmakers shamelessly parody lines from both “Casablanca” and “On the Waterfront.” Every joke is flat and every gag is completely humorless. This project might have worked a little better as a cartoon (it was originally intended to be an animated feature), but probably not.

– Mike Massie

  • 1/10