Thursday, March 1, 2012
Leap Day Schlocktacularfest
Is two times enough for a tradition?
When we watched The Wicker Man four years ago, I happened to notice that it was on February 29th. I thought that this day, which only comes along once every four years, demanded a special movie, and The Wicker Man certainly qualified.
If you haven't seen The Wicker Man, well, I invite you to keep it that way. Unless you're like me and have a perverse desire to endure utter crap for 100 minutes. If you merely want to know what makes The Wicker Man so crappy, I invite you to check out this instead:
There! Now you know why it was so special.
So in the last few weeks, when I knew that February 29th was approaching, I wondered what movie might be worthy enough to carry on the torch of Leap Day craptacularity that began with The Wicker Man in 2008. It would have to be something epically bad to truly be eligible to recognize the rarity of a February 29th.
Enter Howard the Duck.
Howard the Duck has been on our Netflix instant queue for over a year, and I'd say a half-dozen times I was on the verge of starting to watch it. But each of those times, it was late at night, and I needed something that was more like an hour and twenty minutes, rather than an hour fifty-one.
I had to try to sneak it in late at night, because my wife wanted no part of it. For good reason -- no person who values their time should.
Fortunately, I do not value my time.
So when my wife told me a couple days ago that she was going out to a free seminar for web producers on Wednesday night, I quickly realized that Wednesday was February 29th, and I quickly realized that Howard the Duck's time had finally come.
Over the 25 years since it hit theaters, I've had plenty of time to wonder how bad it could truly be. The rumors were that its quality was legendarily bad, but don't go rush right out and see it -- it's the bad kind of bad, not the good kind of bad. Aside from the few moving images I saw of it in commercials advertising its release, though, I didn't know precisely what was so bad about it.
Well, now I know.
If there were one word I could use to describe Howard the Duck, it would be "wrong-headed." (If you'll allow the hyphen in making it one word.) For how much the movie seems like it probably cost -- it boasts a few visual effects and makeup effects that would have been state-of-the-art at the time -- there was so little thought put into whether it would appeal to anybody.
The movie is basically about a duck living in a world very much like our own, except instead of monkeys being the progenitors of the planet's dominant species, ducks are. (This stolen almost verbatim from the movie's most clear-headed passage.) They've evolved to about exactly the spot that humans on Earth had evolved by the mid-1980s -- the posters on the wall of Howard's shabby apartment say Breeders of the Lost Stork and Splashdance, with ducks filling the iconic poses that Harrison Ford and Jennifer Beals made famous on Earth. Very soon after we meet Howard, however, he is sucked through a wormhole into another dimension as a voiceover explains that in the universe, all possible realities exist. Naturally, the reality Howard now finds himself in has a striking similarity to his own -- the people even speak the same language as he does. Only, this is the mean streets of Cleveland on planet Earth, not the very similar looking place he came from.
What follows is a series of misadventures involving Howard, a daffy rock star played by Lea Thompson, a daffy lab assistant played by Tim Robbins, and a daffy scientist played by Jeffrey Jones. In fact, the only character who really isn't all that daffy is the duck. He talks and acts kind of like an acerbic Jewish accountant, one who is generally pretty horny. The mission is ostensibly to return Howard to his own dimension using the same scientific equipment that brought him here, but in the process of that, Jones' character's body is taken over by that of a dark overlord who is trying to bring more dark overlords down to Earth. It's up to Howard to save the Earth. Naturally, he and Thompson's character also fall in love along the way.
This description may sound pretty bad, but it's the details of this movie that really make it so odd. For starters, I thought it was very strange that this movie received a PG rating, especially since the PG-13 rating had already been introduced into the rating system. In fact, this movie has numerous moments that would never fly in a PG movie today, and might not even make it into a PG-13 movie. For example, there are two instances of duck tits. That's right, duck tits. Naked tits on ducks -- one a photograph in a magazine (called Playduck, natch), one on a live topless duck in a bathtub. In fact, I wanted to call this post "Duck tits and other disasters." Hmm, maybe that would have been more attention-grabbing.
Just a select few more moments that pushed the PG rating:
- Inexplicably, while looking through Howard's wallet, Thompson's character finds a condom in it. Not only are we invited to think of sex in general, we are invited to think of duck sex.
- When Howard gets a job in Cleveland through an employment agency, it's at some kind of erotic pleasure palace where half-naked customers are going at each other and constantly running off into private rooms.
- The movie lingers on a scene of Thompson wearing only pink lingerie. She almost takes her top off and appears on the verge of having sex with Howard.
- Howard is always talking about how he's going to kill somebody.
- There are several scenes of semi-intense violence, including a brawl in and alley and a brawl in a bar where Howard smashes a bottle of liquor over someone's head. During this scene he also uses an ice pick to threaten a punk with ripping out his earring.
- The monster Jones transforms into is too scary for today's PG, and is just unpleasant in general.
- When the monster shoots rays at people, they convulse in a seizure. One person even disappears, presumably to his death.
It was stuff like this that caused them to invent the PG-13 rating in the first place. Yet I suspect they thought kids would be one of the biggest audiences for this movie. If you've watched this movie, you know how absurd that conclusion was.
Really, this movie is for no one. It's odd and disjointed and unfunny and poorly acted.
I can't say that I had a bad time watching it, but I did start to fall asleep at the end.
There are probably plenty of other things I could tell you about Howard the Duck, but let's just leave it at that. I've suffered enough watching it, and you've suffered enough reading about it. Besides, if you're like me and do want to subject yourself to Howard the Duck, you'll want a couple surprises still to discover yourself.
Now that I've got this tradition going, I can't wait for Sunday, February 29th, 2016.
I've got nearly four years to figure out the next worthy entrant into this series.