Let us get this out of the way right off the bat--Howard the Duck is one of the worst movies ever made. You hate it. I hate. Toddlers living in the heart of darkest Africa who have never even heard of movies hate it. Steve Gerber, the creator of Howard the Duck, hated it. He probably complained about the film on his death bed. Only Joe Quesada seems to think Howard the Duck is worth anything, and then only because he wanted a 25th anniversary Blu-Ray release. Rest assured how this review is going to turn out before you even startt reading. Skip it in good conscience if desired. You will not be missing anything.
What is probably the most disappointing aspect of Howard the Duck is how much the film has going for it. It was produced by George Lucas when Star Wars mania was cooling off, but before the prequels ruin his reputation among fans. All the usual suspects of Lucas film went into making the movie, including the company that would become Pixar. Some say Lucas unloaded Pixar because he knew Howard the duck was awful and wanted to disavow their work. I do not know if that is true, so look it up and decide the issue for yourself. The cast ought to be great. Lea Thompson cavorts about in her underwear fresh of Back to the Future. Tim Robbins plays a goofy graduate student. Jeffrey Jones plays a creepy villain long before we realized he actually was a creepy villain in real life. You cannot forget the John Barry score, either. But Howard the Duck is horrible in spite of all the virtues it should have going for it.
The main problem is the tone. Howard the Duck is an incredibly unpleasant film to watch. It is too silly to be aimed at adults, but has too many racy bits to be aimed at kids. The comic book had a satirical bent that was enjoyably absurd because the main character was an anthropomorphic duck. You had to be savvy in order to absorb it all. The film is pure ‘80’s cheese without the slightest hint of any deeper meaning underneath. But it is not mindless fun for kids, either. There are nipples on a naked female duck and the shadowy image of Howard and Beverly (Thompson) having sex. I am not certain I would go so far as to label those sequences obscene, but I would hate to have the images indelibly imprinted on a kid’s mind.
Howard is al so the object of some incredibly brutal violence. He is thrown to Earth from his home planet, beset by muggers, bar patrons, police, and an angry chef before engaging in a final confrontation with the alien villain, who first appears when the film is nearly over, which leaves his goose almost literally cooked. The film might have been going for a Tom & Jerry tone of violence, but they overshot the mark terribly.
I mentioned the villain--the main plot, as it were--does not show up until the film is nearly over. This is true, and indicative of how the story rambles on with no attention paid to proper structure. We do not know why Howard was brought to Earth until nearly the end. The plot zig zags from Howard attempting to find a job to drama with Beverly’s rock band not taking off due to incompetent management to to the battle with the alien overlord. It never quite ends satisfactorily, but you are relieved when it does mercifully end in a concert in which Howard, the new manager of Beverly’s band, rocks out on guitar. Yeesh.
There is nothing redeeming about Howard the Duck. The script is terrible in both narrative and structural terms. None of the characters are likable. Everyone of them is stupid, including the supposed scientific genius played by Robbins. The various plots meander to the point you do not realize the main story has begun and ended with earth being saved from alien invasion. Or something. Anyone and everyone should stay as far away from Howard the Duck as possible.
Rating: * (out of 5)