Howard the Duck (1987)PG


No, the cape ranking isn’t accidentally missing on the line above... this film’s rating is zero capes!

This alleged comedy has a reputation of being one of the most unwatchably awful big-budget flops ever filmed, right up there in that select pantheon that includes Waterworld, Ishtar, the De Laurentiis King Kong remake and its sequel (both directed by the same guy who made Sheena!), Battlefield Earth, Inchon!, and so on. And yes, this movie lives up to that reputation — in fact, none of those just mentioned is anywhere near this awful. It won no less than four Razzie awards, including a tie for Worst Picture of the Year. (The most Razzies ever won by any one film is seven: a record jointly held by Battlefield Earth and Showgirls... and I am prepared to testify under oath that this is far worse than either.) The Stinkers also awarded it Worst Film. Whenever anyone puts together a list of the worst films ever made, this one is usually on it, and deservedly so. Heck, next to this, Waterworld scarcely even qualifies as below average.

Are you uncertain about the future of your relationship? Do you wonder if maybe your S.O. doesn’t really love you? Ask them to sit through this film. You will find out whether they truly love you.

Imagine the most unbearable Odious Comic Relief you’ve ever seen being given a chance to be the star of his own film. To illustrate just how bad a movie this makes, let us apply the Jar Jar Binks test. To apply this test to a movie, just visualize what the movie would be like if the protagonist were replaced with Jar Jar Binks. For example, visualize “Jar Jar Binks And The Temple Of Doom”, or “Greystoke: The Legend Of Jar Jar Of The Apes”, or Double-Jar Seven in “The Planet Gunga Is Not Enough”. Then ask yourself whether the movie in this modified form is better or worse than the real movie. I think you’ll find, if you investigate, that the results of such a test will tend to match this chart:

Film under test Does the movie get better or worse if you replace the protagonist with Jar Jar Binks?
Howard The Duck better
every other movie ever made worse

I am not exaggerating, I am not being figurative, this is the flat literal truth: Howard The Duck would genuinely be a better film with Jar Jar in it instead of Howard. And if there is any other movie in existence of which this is true, I sure can’t name it.

Watching the first half feels much like being a parent or babysitter who has to sit through the most moronic drivel made for small children. The tone of much of the film is very much like cheapo kids’ fare. Yet they apparently intended grownups to watch it. Some of the “jokes” — or rather, I should say “gags”, as that word better suggests the reaction you have — are rather adult oriented. By that I mean they involve adult things like centerfolds and condoms, not that they will ever get a grownup to laugh.

But Lea Thompson as the rock musician who takes Howard under her wing is kinda neat, and her band has some likeable New Wave tunes, courtesy of Thomas Dolby.

I was very tempted to just write this review based on the first 20 minutes and never finish the film. But then I would have missed the most unintentionally hilarious line: a woman looks at Howard’s face and blurts out, “It’s so lifelike and realistic!” Watching all the way to the end was the most masochistic viewing experience I’ve inflicted on myself in years. Worse than Freddy Got Fingered combined with an especially bad episode of Extreme Makeover. (Not the weepy house-building one, I mean the original dentist-and-boob-job one.)

But it turns out that the movie improves in the second half. To be more exact, it improves whenever Jeffrey Jones is onscreen. In the second half they switch to an action/suspense story, with Jones as a Dark Lord of Evilness who must be stopped. His performance is the only one in the movie that’s funny. Whenever he’s off camera, the urge to overdose yourself with barbituates rather than keep watching promptly returns. Without Jones, this is very nearly the platonic ideal of a perfectly unwatchable movie. But only God can create the perfect bad movie... us mere humans slip up and leave in one or two little tidbits that fail to be entirely awful.

Even with Jones around, the guy who does Howard’s voice is so godawful, so ear-gratingly painful and repulsive to hear, that any otherwise engaging scene is spoiled the instant his beak opens. So if any occasional bits of stray humor happen to go by, you just can’t enjoy them while your vital organs hurt that much.

This just might be the single worst film of any kind that I have ever seen in my entire life.