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Cinema Obscura 

So, a duck walks into a drugstore and asks for Chapstick. The cashier asks if the duck will be paying by cash or charge. “Neither,” says the duck. “Just put it on my bill.”

Howard the Duck could be considered a $37-million screen adaptation of that joke, but that isn’t really fair to the joke, which features deeper characterization, a better-conceived plot, and even a funnier anthropomorphized-duck pun.

To be fair, Willard Huyck (Temple of Doom and, unbelievably, American Grafitti) has a different sense of humor, dropping much of the original Marvel comic book’s lame duck puns and bizzaro meta-parody to scrape laughs from animatronic ducks doing people stuff — drinking beer, watching TV, and making awkward sexual advances toward Lea Thompson.

Despite the PG rating, the film’s clumsy entendres and glimpses of zoologically suspect duck nipples flirt with serious Leviticus 18 violations while never quite descending to the X-rated raunch of Ralph Bakshi’s Fritz the Cat. Like 1972’s Fritz, though, Howard is a nearly unwatchable artifact of its decade. The film’s datedness, in fact — the Thomas Dolby soundtrack, the feathered hair (and, somehow, feathered feathers), and what should’ve been pre-Shawshank Tim Robbins committing career suicide — provides more laughs than any of the intentional jokes.

Despite the film’s cult following, it’s never been released on DVD in the U.S., but fans with special Region 2 players can order the PAL version released in the U.K. earlier this year. The rest of us would have to make due with a bare-bones, region-free copy with mediocre A/V quality and no special features, so stick with the more widely available VHS. If you don’t have a VCR, you can faithfully recreate the experience by hitting yourself in the face with the videotape for two hours.

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April 8, 2020


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