Spaceballs (1987)

7 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Spaceballs” is a comedy by Mel Brooks which has a lot of jokes that are hit-and-miss, but also has just about the same amount of jokes that are hits in the way that I laughed. This is not one of Mel Brooks’ best films—it doesn’t rank up there with “Young Frankenstein.” Or rather, it’s not one of Mel Brooks’ best scripts. There are so many lame puns and juvenile humor. What had me laughing, however, were the visual gags and the behavior of some of the characters, especially the villains. So there are enough funny moments in “Spaceballs” that I’m giving it a mild recommendation.

The whole movie is a parody of the “Star Wars” movies. We have almost everything from the famous George Lucas saga spoofed here. We have Luke Skywalker/Han Solo type Lone Starr, the beautiful but stuck-up Princess Druidia (a “Druish” princess), a droid named Dot Matrix (oh yeah, and voiced by Joan Rivers), a half-man/half-dog Chewbacca replacement named Barf (“I’m my own best friend”), the short wise alien named Yogurt, and of course, the villain Dark Helmet. There are other characters, but I’ll get to them later.

The film begins with those “Star Wars” opening texts that scroll into space, explaining the back story of “Spaceballs” and ending with a fade-in saying, “If you can read this, you don’t need glasses.” That’s funny. But—and maybe I missed something here—there’s a long, tedious shot of the villain’s spaceship that goes on for a minute and a half and doesn’t seem to show anything…well, funny. But then we’re introduced to the villain Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), who has a large dark helmet that brings his voice to a James Earl Jones baritone type. How do we know it’s Rick Moranis, though? Because Dark Helmet can’t keep the helmet on all the time (he can’t breathe, he can’t see straight, he has to drink a cappuccino, you name it). And he’s a nerd. One of the joys about “Spaceballs” is that Dark Helmet, his second-in-command Sandurz (George Wyner), and President Skroob of Spaceball City (Mel Brooks)—the three villains of the movie—are so dumb, you can’t believe that they’d lead any army. It’s very funny when they plan any evil plot in this movie.

The heroes are the rebellious Lone Starr (a very bland Bill Pullman) and his partner Barf (a very likable John Candy), who as I said is half-man/half-dog (with paws and a tail). They fly through outer space into a flighty Winnebago (nice visual gag) on the run from Pizza the Hutt, a Jabba the Hutt type except he’s a mountain of cheese and pepperoni. Pizza the Hutt is just as disgusting as Jabba the Hutt, but also the funniest gag in the whole movie.

Lone Starr and Barf are called upon by King Roland of Planet Druidia, which is in danger of being destroyed by the Spaceballs of Planet Spaceball—run by President Skroob (Dark Helmet is in charge of the spaceship Spaceball One). King Roland (Dick van Patten) needs the heroes to rescue Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga, “The Sure Thing”) and Dot Matrix from capture by Dark Helmet. They succeed, but find themselves lost on a desert planet, where Lone Starr and Princess Vespa argue as Barf and Dot Matrix look on and spew one-liners, and they meet a Yoda type named Yogurt (also played by Mel Brooks) who gives Lone Starr a special ring and gives them the phrase, “May the Schwartz be with you.” This constant repeating of the phrase is so hoping for memorable payoff that it isn’t funny.

As I said, “Spaceballs” has many jokes that are hit-and-miss. The script has a lot of puns and juvenile humor (there’s a difference here). But there are other jokes that do work in the way that I laughed joyfully and recommending the movie. I loved the Pizza the Hutt gag, I liked John Candy and Rick Moranis, Mel Brooks gives two wacky performances, I liked the gag where the villains  try to watch the movie itself to find the heroes, I liked the satire on stunt doubles, and uh…I think there are a couple more if I can think of them.

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