Bringing to life a 10-year-old comic strip, BRENDA STARR is a sputtering mess of silliness, dumbbell humor and obscenities. The storyline features illustrator Mike Randall who is sucked into his strip one day after Brenda, his curvaceous heroine caricature rebukes him from the page
The past two summers unveiled BATMAN and DICK TRACY, two blockbuster hits that successfully brought our favorite comic book characters to life on the silver screen. This summer’s comic strip movie, BRENDA STARR, is an unfortunate, sputtering mess compared to its predecessors.
Produced in 1987, the film has been shelved for the past four years. By all intents and purposes, BRENDA STARR should have been left there. Reportedly, the delay was caused by legal and financial battles between several parties, rather than the studio’s justifiable reluctance to see this turkey roasted by the critics.
The story begins as Mike Randall, a young illustrator, sits at his desk creating his curvaceous ace reporter and comic strip heroine, BRENDA STARR. Suddenly, before his very eyes, she comes to life and tells him exactly what she thinks of his feeble efforts. Brenda insults him and tells him to “bug off.” At this moment, Mike is sucked into the comic strip, where he chases her through hair-raising escapades taking place shortly after World War II.
Brenda’s latest scoop is the shoot-out between the New York City Police force and Public Enemy No. 3. She infiltrates the gangster’s lair and brings the villain to justice, landing herself in the hospital in the process. Not satisfied with this, her editor has a story “that’s bigger than an atomic bomb” for her next assignment. This involves the disappearance of an ex-Nazi and a secret formula that could change the face of the world as Brenda knows it.
Accepting the story, Brenda learns of an aged German scientist who has developed a formula to turn water into gasoline. Pursued by the increasingly amorous Mike as well as a gang of sluggish Bolsheviks, she risks everything to locate the formula for the good guys.
Meanwhile, Brenda falls for the dashing and mysterious Basil St. John, who romances her with a black orchid at her hospital bed. Basil, it transpires, is more than willing to lead Brenda to the Nazi, Kreutzer. She outwits her arch-reporting rival, Libby “Lips” and foils two bumbling Russian agents as she sets off hot foot in pursuit of her story and an adventure that puts her own life and that of the future perilously on the line.
Nearly everything about BRENDA STARR has been miscalculated. Brooke Shields looks good in her flashy Bob Macke costumes, but lacks the comic timing (not to mention a coherent script) needed for the fantasy romp to work.
Brenda’s romantic interest, the mysterious Basil St. John is a pre-James Bond archetype who appears embarrassed on camera. (He will be even more embarrassed when this film hits the market.) Another character, Libby Lipscomb, is a reporter for a community newspaper who shamelessly screeches and mugs as Brenda’s rival. Veteran actors Eddie Albert, Charles Dunning and Ed Nelson wander around in cameo appearances, hoping not to be recognized.
The film’s worst offense is that it gives the look and feel of an outdated 1960’s sitcom bringing to mind scenes from GILLIGAN’S’ ISLAND or GREEN ACRES. Actually, this is surprising, considering photography director, Freddie Francis’ ravishingly breath-taking, Academy Award winning cinematography in GLORY.
Perhaps the movie’s biggest shortcoming is that it isn’t really suited for any particular audience. The dumbbell humor and overall silliness appear to be aimed at very young children, but they are probably unfamiliar with the comic strip. Viewers most apt to recognize BRENDA STARR are older adults, who read the comic strip decades or more ago.
However, neither age group will appreciate the continuous four-letter words mouthed by cartoonist Mike, nor his annoying efforts to goad Brenda into uttering an obscenity. Teenagers, for whom the bad language is intended, will avoid this film in droves. Smart MOVIEGUIDE readers will do likewise.
BRENDA STARR brings to mind Solomon’s caricature of the fool in Proverbs, who lacks understanding and discipline, gushes folly and amounts to nothing.
(LL, VV, S) Scattered obscenities, slapstick violence and sexual immortality implied.