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January 24, 2011

Howard the Duck Film Review

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Written by: AHudson

Title: Howard the Duck
Willard Huyck
Writers: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz (created by Steve Gerber)
Distributed By: Universal
Starring: Lea Thompson, Tim Robbins, Jeffrey Jones, Ed Gale, Chip Zien
Release Date: August 1st, 1986

Howard the Duck is an inhabitant of Duck World when suddenly he gets sucked through the universe and lands in Cleveland, Ohio. Soon he befriends Beverly Switzer after saving her from a pack of hoodlums. Together, they seek help from lab assistant Phil Blumburtt as to what Howard is and how he got here. Blumburtt discovers that the cause of Howard’s space travel was the result of an experiment conducted by Dr. Walter Jennings. But when they attempt to send Howard back home, Dr. Jennings gets possessed by the Dark Overlord, who kidnaps Beverly and plans to destroy the world. Now it’s up to Howard to save his girlfriend, save the planet, and get back to Duck World.

There are three kinds of terrible films. Terrible films that aren’t that terrible; terrible films that are fun to shred apart; and terrible films that are terrible. Howard the Duck fits right into the third category without a doubt.

The problem with this film, is that it fails on every level. Most bad comic book films will have at least one strong point. Maybe campiness, action, special effects, you name it. But Howard The Duck has nothing to brag about.

For starters, the writing is pretty bad. I’m not talking about the plot (although that’s nothing extraordinary). What I’m talking about is the dialog. They never try to add some natural dialog or even some heartfelt discussions. It’s just an endless barrage of bad jokes as they try to get some laughs.

The humor is just terrible. The films starts with lame duck puns and ends with lame duck puns. Most of the time they’re not even puns. It’s just common expressions with the word “duck” thrown in (“well you know what they say, ‘no duck is an island'”). By the time the film is through, you’ll want to beat the living hell out of whoever says the word “duck.”

Expect a duck pun every minute. And this is just within the first five minutes.

Even the acting is abysmal. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not a cast that lacks talent. I love Lea Thompson, Tim Robbins, and every other major actor in the film. But even they couldn’t salvage this mess. Here’s a breakdown of some of the characters.

Howard the Duck (Chip Zien [voice], Tim Rose, Steve Sleap, Peter Baird, Mary Wells, Lisa Sturz, Jordan Prentice): I admit, not the worst of them all. At least he’s not over the top like the rest of them. But he feels like one of those company mascots that tries too hard to be cool. Especially with the smart ass comebacks every two minutes.

Certainly not a swan. Not with that fowl mouth.

Beverly Switzler (Lea Thompson): The film’s leading lady who’s a punk rocker singer/guitarist for Cherry Bomb. And by punk rocker, I mean someone who dresses like a junior high kid and plays the blandest synthpop ever heard. She also takes a quick liking to someone who’s a crass, cigar chomping duck. Beverly lets Howard crash at her place, helps figure out the reason why he’s stuck in Cleveland, and at one point even tries to make love to him (yes, you heard me right).

Duck humping season.

Phil Blumburtt (Tim Robbins): A very over the top comedic performance as the lab assistant. He’s the sidekick, the butt of every joke.

Dr. Walter Jennings/the Dark Overlord (Jeffrey Jones): As Dr. Jennings, Jones’s performance isn’t too bad. But when he turns into the Dark Overlord, a creature who wants to destroy our planet for no reason (duh), that’s when it gets ridiculous. He/she/it sounds more like a ninety-year-old chain smoker than pure evil. And while the Dark Overlord’s powers aren’t too bad in the visuals department, they’re definitely showing some age.

The rest of the cast is silly and over the top, too, although to be fair a lot of this is to be blamed on the directing and writing. Everyone either acts stupid around Howard as if he’s an Average Joe, or they flee in terror from a three foot duck.

Even the lesser necessities of the film are weak. The action is either Howard slapping six foot thugs around, or very long chase scenes. The costume/set design consists of the worst of the eighties. Not the fun eighties or even the cheesy eighties. It’s more like it was done by someone who had no clue about the eighties pop culture, just one bad eighties stereotype after another.

Inevitable eighties punk gang.

The music isn’t too bad to listen to, but the soundtrack is mostly just riffs being looped endlessly. And don’t get me started on the Howard the Duck theme song. It’s just a few keyboard chords with “Howard the Duck” chanted again and again. This song will be stuck in your head for hours if you listen to it.

Is there anything good in this film? Well, to be fair, it doesn’t have any terrible parts to it. Just a lot of bad ones, that’s all. It’s not like it bored me, although it certainly didn’t impress me. And I suppose it’s a nostalgic artifact, a reminder to future film makers of what not to do. But still, I wouldn’t call any good points in the film saving graces. Just ways to keep it from being a complete disaster.

I’m not trying to be funny or mean spirited when I review this. I hate shredding anyone’s work to pieces, but I have to be honest when a film is truly bad. Even when it’s a case of talented people stuck with an untalented film.

But who knows? Perhaps one day I’ll lighten up on this film. Maybe one day I’ll think of it as a terrible film that’s fun to rip apart, or a terrible film that isn’t that terrible. But for now, I’m staying the “duck” away from this film.

Andrew Hudson



  1. You’re definitely right about that damn theme song being stuck in your head when the movie is over! I can’t believe how long it echoed in my mind years after seeing the movie…ugh! The worst part of the movie was the “nude” scene with the female duck taking a bath, that was just wrong on soooo many levels man!

  2. Billy

    This movie was atrocious. Not even a sex scene with Leah Thompson could save this steaming pile. 😀

  3. Andrew Hudson

    There wasn’t even a sex scene with Lea Thompson. Basically Howard the Duck got cockblocked by the science team when they barged into Beverly’s apartment. Remember this was a PG film (although apparently it was O.K to have duck boobs and a sex club/bathhouse). If you want to see Lea Thompson naked AND watch a great film, then I’d recommend “All the Right Moves”.

  4. Decapated Dan

    This movie rocks and I am PROUD to show people my VHS copy of it any day of the week! And it has some Day Bow Bow.

  5. Billy

    @Andrew- Oh yes, I’ve seen All the Right Moves…and DD, you should be ashamed of yourself.

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