It's sad to see a legend from the 1970s reduced to this.
I write of course about the Spinners, that classic R&B act which appears on the soundtrack of "Spaceballs" performing the title track: "What you got is what they need/And all they know is dirty deeds/They're the Spaceballs/Watch out!"
Watch out, indeed. Just because it's by Mel Brooks doesn't make it funny. In fact, Brooks' comedies showed serious sign of strain and rust by the end of the 1970s. Except for "To Be Or Not To Be," which he starred in but didn't direct, Brooks was never involved in a good comedy after 1977's "High Anxiety."
Nineteen seventy-seven was also the year "Star Wars" came out, the movie parodied here along with its two sequels. Watching "Spaceballs," one gets the feeling Mel was inspired less by his love for sci-fi fantasy than the big bucks the Star Wars franchise raked in. Brooks himself stars as Yoghurt, a little-Jewish-man parody of Yoda, and as President Skroob, leader of the evil Spaceballs and the butt of many groin gags. Skroob wants to steal the oxygen supply of the planet Druidia with the help of his dangerous-looking but height-challenged henchman Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis). Can the mercenary Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) stop them?
I love 1980s films, even gnarly ones like "Scarface" and "Streets Of Fire." But any film with a major part for Joan Rivers and an extended Max Headroom bit just gags me with a spoon. There's also a villain called "Pizza The Hutt" and references to the Doublemint gum twins and Ford Galaxies. You wonder whether Mel was cribbing ideas from Cracked magazine.
"Who are you?" demands Daphne Zuniga, playing the role of a Princess Leia character, to a half-man, half-dog character played by John Candy who has just popped into the front of her spaceship.
"Barf," says Candy, that being the character's name.
"Not in here you don't. This is a Mercedes!"
Brooks presents better material, just not very much. The film throughout is shot in a remarkably flat and ugly manner, and acted so broadly you almost wince in pain for the next-morning regrets of all involved. Pullman and Zuniga have zero romantic or comic chemistry. Worse still is the slow pacing, taking forever to set up single-line gags. Whereas he was creating great comedy the decade before, here he takes cues from his own imitators, like the makers of "Airplane!" complete with their kitchen-sink surrealism. When the Spaceball cruiser faces imminent destruction, we discover a crew of kettle drummers and bearded ladies. Yoghurt is surrounded by dwarfs who sing a one-word version of the Colonel Bogie march. It's so kooky, it must be funny!
About the only redeeming feature in this entire movie is Moranis's over-the-top performance as Dark Helmet. Brooks does give him some good lines, and he delivers them with a goofy mixture of menace and panache, even when he is stuck making innumerable jokes about his "Schwartz."
Oddly, "Spaceballs" does have many admirers, perhaps because the film was around when they were young and starving for anything "Star Wars" related, back when the original trilogy was hard to locate on video. Brooks pulled in his biggest financial success while keeping appetites whetted for George Lucas's next run to the well a decade hence.
Don't confuse "Spaceballs" with a real Mel Brooks comedy. "Blazing Saddles" is for the ages. This was for the bucks.
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