Spaceballs (1987) – A Review
Mel Brooks tackles Star Wars and a bunch of other sci-fi movies with Spaceballs.
Planet Spaceball is almost out of fresh air and now President Skroob (Brooks) needs to get his hands on the peaceful Planet Druidia’s plentiful fresh air. Luckily the Druish Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) has left her pre-arranged wedding and is alone in space with her golden droid of honor Dot Matrix (voiced by Joan Rivers). If the Spaceballs can capture the Princess they can use her as leverage to get Druidia’s shield password and get ahold of their precious air.
However, space rogue Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) is enlisted by Vespa’s father to save his daughter. Lone Starr and his mawg sidekick Barf (John Candy) set out to free the princess and soon are on the run from villainous Spaceball Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) and his super huge scary spaceship.
Along the way the group encounters the mystical power holder Yogurt (also Brooks), they learn a bit about the mysterious Schwartz power, get into laser gun battles, weird lightsaber-type fights, travel at ludicrous speeds and attempt to save the planet Druidia, and all the while Brooks takes pot shots and spoofs famed sci-fi movies.
I went to see Spaceballs back when it first came out. By 1987 we hadn’t had a Star Wars movie for four years. We had already gotten a spoof of Star Wars – 1978’s Hardware Wars – along with kids mining their own jokes about the series long before it became a trendy thing to do.
But Spaceballs was going to be a big-screen spoof movie similar to the likes of Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Airplane! and Top Secret!
I watched it and left mildly amused by it. It certainly wasn’t on the higher end of the list of Brooks’ comedies, or any of those other parody movies at the time. This was back when spoof movies were actually funny and well made, not like the garbage we see today that have bottomed out the entire genre.
Spaceballs had some fun gags, an amusing performance by Moranis, who is the real highlight out of the cast, and provided enough chuckles that made it adequate enough that I didn’t feel any ill will towards it. I wanted to love it, but it left me shrugging my shoulders and saying, ‘yeah it was alright’.
And that’s what I still think of Spaceballs – it’s decent. I never understood how it eventually got categorized as a ‘classic comedy’. I certainly wouldn’t describe it that way. I sometimes suspect it was one of those movies that just because a certain amount of time has passed from it coming out, it has been given a more forgiving reevaluation. It’s faults got ignored and it reached the echelon of that ‘classic’ status.
For me, it’s not a ‘classic’. It’s ok. And it’s not as funny as some say it is. I wished it was back when it first hit. I didn’t think so then and I don’t think so now.
There are A LOT of hit and miss jokes in it. I’d say there are acouple laugh out louds, a handful of mild chuckles and the rest are eye rolls and those involuntary responsive sighs, like you saw a joke, understood it, but it doesn’t get you to laugh, so you just do a minor acknowledgement towards it. Sort of the sound of a grunt or mutter the word ‘Ah’ in reaction towards a joke that has passed while you’re sitting there.
Or maybe I just do that.
The story is just a silly string for Brooks to hang his stream of jokes from. The best ones are – some of Moranis’ scenes and lines, John Hurt’s cameo, the Star Trek transporter joke, the Planet of the Apes appearance, some of the breaking the fourth wall moments and the running gag of Spaceballs merchandise.
There’s not enough good gags or imagination to fill the rest of the rest of the movie to the brim with hilarity. There’s the silly character names and puns – Prince Valium, Colonel Sandurz, Major Asshole, Yogurt, the Schwartz, Pizza the Hutt. I never thought they were exactly knee slappers. There’s some tired sight gags and predictable jokes. It almost becomes like trying to win a baseball game by having everyone bunt.
What’s odd is how incredibly juvenile the movie is at certain points, but then it shifts into sexual jokes. I would have initially said, ‘OK maybe real little kids will really like this. They’ll enjoy laughing at the Star Wars jokes and they should watch it. They’d probably think it’s hysterical that the secret code to Druidia’s shield is 1-2-3-4-5.
But then you’d have to explain to them why the lady said Snotty beamed her twice last night and she loved it, what does a Virgin Alarm mean, what do they mean the maid spaceship has gone from suck to blow and try to talk over all the curse words that trickle throughout it.
This was the predicament I was in when I showed it to my nephew. He thought it was hysterical that Barf jammed Dark Helmet’s radar dish by shooting a big bottle of jam at it. But then later he was confused as to what cleavage is and why did Barf order that from the waitress.
The cast….is alright. They’re nowhere near as much fun and outlandish as previous ensembles Brooks worked with in his earlier films. Pullman, Zuniga, Candy, they play along, but really aren’t all that memorable in this and don’t have much chemistry between each other.
Moranis is really the standout. I think Brooks gave him all the best lines. The one simple scene of him playing with his Spaceballs toys is funnier than pretty much anything his co-stars get to do.
So Spaceballs is passable, but nowhere near as good as it should have been or as funny as I hoped it would be. I guess it can hold the title for the ultimate Star Wars spoof movie – but that’s just by default.