Saturday, January 12, 2008

Trapped In A World He Never Made

January – the poorest month of the year. The longest interval between pay cheques and the financial hangover from Christmas hungrily gnaws at the hollow pockets of my wallet. What’s a guy to do for entertainment?

I suspect that 2008 will be the Year of the Press Screening for me. Plonking down cold hard cash to watch movies might be one luxury I can’t afford in the coming months. Fortunately for me, there are always stray e-mails penetrating my inbox inviting me to screenings. So this week, I went to see my first movie of the year. And no-one believes me when I tell them what I went to watch. Even if they do believe me, I can detect in their eyes a look that screams “Why, man? Why would you do such a thing??”

Ready? I went to see THIS!

Yes, to commemorate the DVD release of Howard The Duck, I squeezed myself into one of Soho’s miniscule screening rooms to let the insane magic of one of cinema’s most derided creations wash over me. And I’ll tell you a little secret. I was one of the only people who went to see it 20 years ago when it was released in the UK with the bland, almost-apologetic title Howard: A New Breed Of Hero. I loved it then too – for entirely different reasons though.

How can you not love a film that is so inept, misconceived and borderline offensive, riven with bad acting and dialogue that makes your ears weep, yet at the same time is genuinely funny, thrilling and thoroughly enjoyable from curtain up to curtain down? I am in awe of the fact that something as gloriously lunatic as Howard The Duck exists in the annals of cinema. And there really is a lot to recommend it.

The one thing that the film gets right is the character of Howard himself. The flip-side is that it totally fumbles the purpose of Howard. In Steve Gerber’s wonderful 70s comic, Howard was us. He wasn’t the freak. Everyone else was. He was Gerber’s mouthpiece – a vehicle for his frustration and amused irritation at the state of America in the 70s. In the movie, Howard just ends up as another reluctant action hero.

The duck effects in the movie actually stand up reasonably well in 2007. And there is more fun to be had here than in the stodgy lifeless effects spectacles foisted on us every summer.

But it says something when the best performance is the one given by the guy in the duck suit. Lea Thompson hit an all-time high with Back To The Future, only to thud right back down to earth with Howard The Duck. And the less said about the inter-species sex hinted at in a family film the better. Jeffrey “Ed Rooney” Jones is both teeth-grindingly dreadful and so far over-the-top that you cannot help but fall madly in love with his crazed appearance. And as for Tim Robbins – there’s no sugarcoating it. He is just crap in this.

It made me want to crack open my Essential Howard The Duck collection, just so that I could enjoy once again how it all began. And I’d definitely sit through the movie again. I might wait another 20 years until I do though…

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