Sunday, September 11, 2016

SPACEBALLS (1987) - **½


Rated PG
Running time: 96 min.
Release date: June 24, 1987



Spaceballs is director Mel Brooks' parody of some rather popular sci-fi films. References in the film include Star Trek, The Wizard of Oz and a memorable reference to Alien. However, the bulk of the film gets most of its material from Star Wars. Brooks has a style and a sense of humor that can be hit or miss with a lot of people. Films like The Producers, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles were highly original and Brooks' best work. Spaceballs has some funny gags but it also contains a lot of gags that are not so funny, therefore this film is far from Brooks' best work.

The film opens with one of the funnier gags, parodying the opening of Star Wars and the Imperial cruiser filling the screen. In Spaceballs, the ship Spaceball One fills the screen, and then just continues to fill the screen for the next two minutes while the score stops and starts several times. Planet Spaceball has wasted all of its good air and is scheming to kidnap Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) on her wedding day and force her father, King Roland (Dick Van Patten) of Planet Druidia, to release the combination to the air shield so Spaceball can take the clean Druidia air for their own. The problem is, Princess Vespa doesn't want to marry Prince Valium, the narcoleptic man her father has chosen. She runs off with her Droid of Honor, Dot Matrix (voiced by Joan Rivers) in her Mercedes spaceship.

The President of Planet Spaceball, President Skroob (Mel Brooks, using an anagram of his name) has tasked the villainous Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) in capturing the princess. Helmet is an obvious parody of Darth Vader, including a hugely oversized helmet that causes more issues than helps. Then we have the captain of the ship, Col. Sandurz (ha ha, played by George Wyner) and a host of "assholes" working as radar and radio controllers. They spot the Princess in her Mercedes and attempt to snatch her. A distress call is put out by Druidia, and Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) responds. He and his partner, Barf (John Candy), "half-man, half-dog (or Mawg)" are in debt to the mobster Pizza the Hutt (voiced by Dom DeLuise). Pizza is a clever parody of Jabba the Hut from Return of the Jedi, while his right-hand man is a robot named Vinnie, who threatens Lone Starr that "Pizza is going to send out for you." Negotiating the return of the Princess for one million spacebucks, Lone Starr is on the scene and rescues the Princess from the clutches of Dark Helmet and the Spaceballs.

The heroes run out of gas and crash land on the desert moon of Vega where they meet a race of people called the Dinks and the wise, old and possibly Jewish Yogurt, master of a metaphysical power called the Schwartz. Dark Helmet and the crew use a copy of Spaceballs: The Movie to find where our heroes are located, in a scene that breaks the fourth wall, but also is way too self-aware to be very funny. Vespa is captured by Dark Helmet and Lone Starr and company attempt a daring rescue. This leads to the inevitable showdown between Lone Starr and Dark Helmet as both attempt to employ the Schwartz in their fight. Lone Starr also holds a secret about himself that will bring about a happy ending before the film's closing credits.

Spaceballs has some good production values going for it, thanks to a budget of over twenty million dollars. The sets and props themselves are often used for sight gags, including a coffee machine that is confused for a radar. The plot of the movie is thin and just a prop for the comedy, which is fine and to be expected in a Mel Brooks film. The cast is constantly winking at the camera as they believe in the comedy material and try their best to get it over. However, the main issue at hand is the script itself. Written by Brooks, Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham (who plays the frustrated minister in the film), there are some original and funny ideas at play here, but a lot of the comedy falls flat and the movie runs out of steam before the end, as it attempts to quickly resolve the plot. The self-referential gags were not funny and took me out of the movie. So the characters know they're in a movie and use that to their advantage at times. I find this to be a lazy plot device and shows a lack of creativity in attempting to fill time within the movie.

Ultimately, Spaceballs is a comedy that can be entertaining when it's being creative but then counters that with lame attempts at self-awareness. Mel Brooks was at his best when he would create comedy out of mundane situations, without letting the audience know that they were in on the joke as well. When the comedy would just unfold on the screen and let the audience find the humor in it, instead of telling the audience when they were supposed to laugh. I wanted to like Spaceballs, and I did find some things to like about it, but there just weren't enough of those moments. The sum of all the parts did not add up to a whole.


No comments:

Post a Comment