Picks and Pans Review: Howard the Duck

updated 08/18/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/18/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

If you want to know why grown-ups don't go to the movies anymore, try suffering through this ludicrous curiosity. It's based on the cult Marvel Comics character, a wise-ass duck who lives on another planet that mirrors ours. But if Howard has movie-star potential, this movie buries it. Instead of honoring the spirit of Steve Gerber's fowl creation, which dishes out droll social commentary, Howard keeps splitting its personality. First it's a culture-clash-across-the-cosmos comedy. Transported from his planet to earth, Howard lands in Cleveland, where he befriends punk singer Lea (Spacecamp) Thompson, who proves to be a less interesting actress with each performance. Then the script turns into a high-tech edition of The Exorcist as scientist Jeffrey (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) Jones, who was going to send Howard home, metamorphoses into a tyrannical monster. From there the film careens from car chase to fist fight to quack-up (indiscriminately indulging in duck puns along the way). Howard gets upstaged by the villain, and his idiosyncratic personality gets reduced to smart aleck. He's like David Letterman in a Halloween outfit. Watching an actor waddle around in the unimpressive costume (eight players are credited with the part), you don't know if you're at a movie or a shopping mall opening. Besides its enormous expense (reportedly costing between $22 million and $50 million), Howard the Duck comes with prodigious pedigrees. George Lucas, who originated the project, served as executive producer; his company provided the special effects. Director Willard Huyck and producer Gloria Katz, the husband-and-wife team who co-wrote the script, authored the smashing screenplays for American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It's particularly depressing that filmmakers of such distinction only want to overpower audiences with sights and sounds. In a summer marked by such big-budget thuds as Legal Eagles, Pirates and Big Trouble in Little China, this pointless creature-feature seems like the final indignity. (PG)

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