Howard the Duck (1986) (part 3 of 6)

The next day, Beverly and Howard are traveling by cab. Beverly has managed to stuff Howard inside a large trash bag in order to hide him from the public, a task that would be easier if the guy would just shut the hell up. The cab drops them off at a museum where Beverly has a friend she thinks can help them out.

Beverly drags Howard down the hall to an office where she knocks and is greeted by our Odious Comic Relief in the form of Phil Blumburtt (Tim Robbins). Robbins is truly annoying here; in essence he’s this film’s Jar-Jar Binks. Don’t give the guy a hard time for how he expresses his political views; give him a hard time for this performance, which mixes the moral compass of Daffy Duck and the personality of Jerry Lewis into one six-foot-five blemish on the ass of an already bad movie.

Just as an aside, when Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon were still together, do you think Susan ever brought this movie up when they were having an argument? It’s not like he could come back with anything she’s done, because there are people out there who actually worship The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sad, strange, lonely people, but people nonetheless.

Our intrepid couple enters Phil’s office and just as suddenly as they go in, the big goon comes out with a stupid grin, chuckling like a moron. Yes, I know, hard to tell either way.

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Phil bursts into another office full of official looking scientist types, sputtering about Howard. Naturally, they look at him like he’s growing a second head out of his shoulder, and he stops in mid sentence, before recanting loudly and running back out. You know, even at his lowest, Jerry Lewis still had more dignity than Tim Robbins does in this film.

Phil puts a “Closed for testing” sign on his door and makes an ass of himself (well, more so than usual, I would imagine) by ranting like… Well, I won’t insult real mad scientists, let’s say he rants like the dumbass cousin of a mad scientist who can barely hold down a job at Taco Bell.

Caption contributed by Ed

“Alright, I’ll try and give a better performance next film, just don’t hurt me!”

He then begins to speak patronizingly to Howard, before changing up to a Donald Duck impression which, needless to say, doesn’t impress Howard. You know, I get the sense Lucas came up with the idea for Jar-Jar while high on peyote, watching this movie.

Phil is dumbstruck (I know, I know) and tries to see if Howard has super powers. Well, if you can call having enough patience to not rip Phil’s head off a super power, I’d say yes. Heck, going by that standard, anyone who can sit through this film could qualify as a super hero!

He goes through this in a melodramatic fashion I could have sworn went out of style with the advent of sound in movies, and the end result is Howard and Beverly storming out. Phil goes from melodramatic nerd to whiny pathetic nerd, following them and babbling on about research papers and what not. Beverly and Howard just want to find a way to solve Howard’s dilemma, to which Goon Boy of course has a solution.

For some reason, he shows off a display of the evolution of man. (Cue obligatory wiseass comment from Howard.) Suddenly, somehow he alters it to a display of the same thing, only with ducks.

Howard the Duck (1986) (part 3 of 6)

This is evolution on drugs. Any questions?

I have to imagine that Darwin would look at this bit and say “What the fuck are you on? Did you get into some of Freud’s stash?”

Phil’s rant continues, until a co-worker comes by and tells him to clean up a spill. Evidently, our rather large friend doubles as the janitor. Hey, I can’t blame the people who run the museum. Would you want this asshole meddling in important scientific research, even if it is just identifying something for the new exhibit? Did we learn nothing from all those ‘50s B-movies? Seriously, John Agar and Morris Ankrum would have had a much more relaxing decade if it weren’t for schmucks like Phil Blumburtt.

Howard and Beverly give him a hard time about it and leave as he protests. Howard goes off without Beverly and of course freaks out a woman entering the museum. Beverly follows quickly with Phil whining. Howard storms off as Beverly tries to reason with him. During this we get constant interruptions: Kids on a field trip who Howard scares off, a guy eating a sandwich who is shocked by what he’s seeing (nice to know Moonraker was still influencing the world of cinema in 1986) and of course, the fact that you’re watching an attractive young woman arguing with a midget in a duck suit.

Howard the Duck (1986) (part 3 of 6)

Howard tells Beverly he doesn’t need her help, so she storms off. Howard talks out loud to nobody that he needs to not feel sorry for himself and get some stuff done. Next thing you know, Howard is entering an employment agency.

Oh, I see we’re on the express train to wackiness. Can I trade in my ticket for some magic beans?

Howard enters the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services (interesting fun fact, in 1986 this agency was looking for an official witch doctor to take the curse off Cleveland’s sports teams), wearing the ugliest outfit in an ‘80s film not involving neon pastels. Jesus, the guy goes from an entirely decent suit to stuff even the kids in those late night charity foundation commercials would turn down.

He’s being handled by a middle aged woman who apparently isn’t fazed by the whole “three foot tall talking duck” thing, and in fact thinks he’s some lazy slacker trying to be weird so he can stay on unemployment benefits. Clearly, this woman is in dire need of some vacation time, preferably somewhere with men in white coats with butterfly nets and heavy duty medication. Either that, or public service jobs make some people a little weird, as well as bitter.

Howard growls at her, and checks out her ass as she turns around to find him a job. Oh, I feel something wacky coming on. She turns and stuffs an envelope into his beak as he’s about to bite her on her rather ample posterior, saying she thinks he’ll take to his new job “like a duck to water.”

Howard’s job turns out to be towel boy, er, duck at a place called Hot Tub Fever. Given the looks of the place, I’d say a fever is the least of the things you should worry about catching. He pushes around a cart that apparently has lotions and antibiotics as well as towels, which just goes to prove my point. Howard is disgusted by the job (you ain’t the only one, brother) and as he takes out a cigar, his boss tells him to unplug a jet in one of the tubs.

The boss is evidently a “hands on” sort of boss, as he just enters an occupied room where a couple is making out and tosses Howard in the water, as he protests “I can’t swim!” I’d mention how no boss in his right mind would run a business this way, but given the movie, it would really make me feel like a dumbass to do so.

The couple is apparently too busy making out to notice Howard, and he climbs out as we cut to a sign reading “Lava of Love”. The boss is fishing what looks like a very dirty, used bikini top out of the dingy looking tub (pardon me for a moment while I stifle my gag reflex) and Howard runs up behind him and pushes him in, quitting.

After that repulsive little interlude, we cut to day, as Howard walks down the desolate streets of Cleveland. Must be morning rush hour. Some “sad” music plays as Howard sits waiting for a bus, which of course leads to the bus pulling to a stop and Howard freaking out everyone as he gets off. You know, you could make a drinking game out of how many times the same gag is played out here. Word of warning though, excessive drinking can lead to liver damage. Or in the case of this film, your liver simply leaping out of your body, calling you a shithead, and going into the other room until the movie is over.

Howard approaches an electronics store, where two guys are watching the TV sets in the window, as a report on duck hunting season opening up plays. Howard is understandably shocked, and just to hammer home the point, we get random images from the other televisions. The report switches to footage of Daffy Duck, a spin-off of Rice-A-Roni called Duck-A-Roni (I thought the duck related products were just on Duckworld!), and finally a hunter on the news report dropping the f-bomb (censored of course, this isn’t HBO news we’re talking here) and the sound of gunshots, which sends Howard running off, where he just happens to end up at the alley he crashed into way back at the beginning of this film.

Great, half an hour in, and the film is already lapping itself.

Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: Howard the Duck (1986)

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