Howard The Duck

Stop calling me “Ducky”
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1986
Director: 
Willard Huyck
Starring: 
Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins, and eight people as Howard
The Setup: 
Duck from another planet is brought to Earth by mistake.
Discussion: 

This legendary production of Lucasfilm, Ltd. Was one of the biggest bombs ever. It cost $30 million, which was a large amount at the time [SO quaint], and only made $16M, in addition to being such a bizarre idea that it brought only shame and ridicule to everyone involved, but mostly George Lucas, who, you know, seems exactly like the kind of person who might think this is a good idea that could really take off.

This is [was] out of print in the States, and a friend of mine, who had seen it once and liked it, one day got possessed to own it [these urges should often be resisted] and ordered it from some shady internet dealer from some sketchy source—and after all that, hated the movie upon re-viewing [quote: "Dude, it fuckin' SUCKS"]. I was very happy to have seen it once, but I would definitely advise against watching it more than that, and even so I fast-forwarded through at least a quarter of it.

We begin in Howard’s apartment on his duck planet. He is set up as a cigar-smoking, tough sort of pre-hipster-malaise Brooklyn schlub, which does not wholly jibe with the pop culture ephemera that litters his apartment. He has a Raiders of the Lost Ark and Flashdance parody posters on the wall [you know, with a duck face photoshopped in and some pun on the name]. It’s obviously a shout-out to the kids, and you know the way Lucas loves to shove his creations in your face every chance he gets, and it tells you what you need to know: this movie makes no attempt to be serious and is trying desperately to be the next 80s kids phenomenon. I think people wouldn’t have piled on this movie so badly if it wasn’t pandering so obviously to 80s sci-fi tween demographic that had been newly created by Lucas and Spielberg.

Anyway, so Howard looks at a Playduck magazine [many of the “jokes” are of this caliber] where we discover that female ducks on his planet have human-like breasts, which can be explicitly shown, as we’re talking about ducks. This becomes more apparent [more DISTURBINGLY apparent] a few seconds later when Howard is sucked through the walls of the neighboring apartments, and goes past a female duck that is MASTURBATING IN THE BATH. Is this material appropriate for kids?

So Howard lands in an alley on Earth where he is promptly assaulted by punks who apparently see nothing unusual in being confronted with a three foot talking duck. He is taken inside this club where Lea Thompson is performing this awesome / hilarious song called "Hunger City," which is about how the world is, like, SO fucked up. Howard is thrown out of the club for being a kid in costume trying to sneak in, and endures more tribulations before saving a post-show Lea Thompson from being attacked. Up until now the many people who have seen Howard have seen nothing strange about a humanoid talking duck. It’s only once we get to the Lea scene that people start reacting as if this were strange.

Anyway, so she takes him home and promptly rifles through his wallet while he sleeps, finding a duck condom—which is DISGUSTING. I do NOT want to think about Howard’s little pink duck penis, let alone think of it approaching Lea Thompson [as we are later invited to do], and this is one of the many touches that just seem fatally misguided about the movie.

Lea Thompson, by the way, is horrible and horribly annoying in these first scenes, and is coifed with this enormous crimped fluff-thing that she really should sue over. She gets charming for about a 15-minute window later. There are some kind of funny lines sprinkled throughout, though, and Lea gets one toward the beginning when Howard is complaining about being stranded on a strange planet and she says: “Well, maybe you ARE trapped on a world you never made, but I’ve got problems of my own! My career is falling apart!” Her career, by the way, is fronting a shitty all-female rock band, and when bar patrons don’t pay rapt attention to her, she whines “Yeah! Real music lovers!”

Howard then decides that he should try to get a job in order to fit in with the Earth program, and goes down to the placement office. There he receives a very Reagan-era diatribe from a corpulent black woman about how “just because you look 'controversial' you think you won’t have to work,” and basically that he’s going to live high on the government’s money without working for it, which is SO bizarre, as this is the sort of racial diatribe usually directed at black people. So how do you deliver a scene like this without uncomfortable racial overtones? Why, simply have a black person deliver it!

Anyway, so it seems that Howard and Lea are slowly falling for each other, which never seems anything other than icky. She calls his “ducky”—INCESSANTLY—and this is supposed to be intimate and charming, but made me want to kick her every time. She recruits her daffy scientist friend [SUCH an 80s type] who is played by Tim Robbins [but would have been inspired had he been played by Jeff Goldblum] to help him, and he introduces him to Jeffery Jones, who says things like “Listen to me, little visitor.” In the meantime, Howard has threatened some thugs with “space rabies,” and one of them says to the other; “Space rabies? Is that real?” And the other thug says, in a dopey voice; “I don’t know, I think I heard something about it on the news.” Then they go to this science lab where they have a huge telescope-thing that brought Howard down in the first place, only it exploded and transformed Jeffery Jones into the supreme galactic ruler or some such and he’s slowly getting possessed. So naturally they let him drive. This leads to a dishearteningly large amount of scenes where people drive erratically while one or all of them go “Woaaaaaaahhhh-oooaaaahhh-ooooaaaaahhh!” It’s the kind of thing I don’t even think eleven-year-olds find funny anymore. But there are some amusing lines like when Jones says “It’s growing inside me! It’s devouring my inner organs!” and Lea responds “Well, maybe we can stop at a bathroom.” And somewhere in here, Howard has had his genitals felt up by two cops.

They then go to this diner, where the HIGHLIGHT PERFORMANCE of the movie is delivered by this chilled-out hippie waitress who I do NOT see credited on IMDB, or I would SO call her out. She’s funny enough, but there’s a scene in which she puts two fried eggs down in front of Howard, causing him to freak out. The supreme leader or whoever then says “This will mean the destruction of all life forms,” and she responds “What do you mean? You haven’t even tried it yet.” Dear reader, this exchange made me laugh HYSTERICALLY for a good 60 seconds straight. My friend who lent me the disc also recalls this waitress as being the best part of the movie as well, so it’s not just me. She has another good scene after they’ve left, and she’s saying to the cops, in a tone that implies that she thinks she’s REALLY smart: “Yeah, there was a woman, man, and kid in a duck suit, but then I flashed on reality—BAM!—Halloween isn’t for another MONTH!”

It all leads to a predictable and thrill-free dénouement in which there is some stop-motion animated monster [and stop-motion animation always brings a smile to the face] that like threatens all the Earth or whatever. At the very end we see Lea and Howard perform the title track while the credits play, but please note a little sequence after they go offstage and cuddle together, and the scene fades out as they’re about to kiss, implying that they ARE INDEED boyfriend and girlfriend. I don’t know—I can kind of accept Swamp Thing and Heather Locklear, but Lea Thompson and a duck… I just don’t know. Maybe I’m a prude.

Anyway, Howard was played by 8 different people. IMDb trivia informs us that Tori Amos auditioned for the part of Lea! Maybe she lost it when the producers realized that her one facial expression, of bemused contempt, would not make for the most sympathetic heroine. The songs are by Thomas Dolby and Allie Willis, who co-wrote the Pet Shop Boys’ “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” and EWF’s “Boogie Wonderland.” The title song is written by the both of them with George Clinton.

Overall, worth watching once, if you can see it, just because it’s such an oddity. But if you never see it I believe that you can and will continue to lead a happy and productive life.

Should you watch it: 

If you can see it it's worth watching once, just to enrich your general knowledge. But don't expect to enjoy it.