*This review appeared on our old, now defunct site Film.IsPwn.com and appeared in my non-selling book, Mega Roos vs. Giant Crappy Movies. I am scheduling it to re-post so there is some dandy, nice reading while I’m on vacation. Enjoy, won’t you? Then buy the book, for Pete’s sake!*
Brenda Starr (1989)
Starring: Brooke Shields, Timothy Dalton, Tony Peck, Jeffrey Tambor
Directed By: Robert Ellis Miller
With apologies to Jaws 4: The Revenge, which I called “the dumbest film ever made,” Brenda Starr is the dumbest movie ever made. This is not “you-can-see-the-monster’s-zipper” stupidity or “the-digital-monsters-look-cheaper-than-Howdy-Doody” terrible. Brenda Starr is “Let’s-Give-Chevy-Chase-A-Late-Night-Talkshow” caliber buffoonery from its very conception.
Brenda Starr is based on a long-running comic strip of the same name that I vaguely remember seeing many moons ago, when I actually got a newspaper and would turn to the funny pages for Calvin & Hobbes. (For you youngsters out there, newspapers are kind of like web sites on paper.)
A lot of Brenda Starr is intended to be camp, but it’s so painfully unfunny it can only be enjoyed as an object of ridicule and scorn. A 20-year-old Brooke Shields plays Brenda Starr, and at this point of Brooke’s career as an actress . . . she’s a beautiful woman. We’ll leave it at that.
We are introduced to Brenda as a cartoon being drawn by disgruntled cartoonist Mike Randall (Tony Peck, son of Gregory, evidence that talent often skips a generation). In the privacy of his studio, Mike goes on an anti-Brenda Starr rant directed at his own scribblings of the fictional character, concluding with this witty putdown: “I wouldn’t even draw you if I didn’t need the dough!”
In a development that made no sense at the time and makes less in retrospect, Cartoon Brenda turns alive on the page in front of Mike, and ostensibly quits the comic strip, saying: “I’ve had it! Who do you think you are? . . . Bug off, buster!”
Brenda Starr transforms from animation to Brooke Shields and walks off the panel and into her next adventure in live action, which is still happening in make-believe CartoonLand, not the real world where she has left a very confused Mike, not to mention the unprecedented befuddlement of the small audience that stumbled across the film.
I’m not sure what law is preventing the artist from simply drawing the character on paper, but Mike is desperate to get Brenda “back” to save his job. I promise, I’m not making any of this up. Rather than consult a psychiatrist about the mental disorder preventing him from drawing an imaginary woman after she came alive and spoke to him, Mike feels he has to convince Brenda to “come back” to the comic strip. Hunker down, we’re not done yet.
In CartoonLand, Brenda is a “star reporter” for a struggling newspaper known as The Flash in post-World War II New York. She’s your typical, chic, spunky gal reporter. Brenda’s latest scoop involves a hunt for a former Nazi scientist who has invented some sort of uber super duper fuel in the depths of the jungles of the Amazon, and whoever gets their hand on the fuel will determine the fate of the world . . . though we know it’s just a phony world where the stakes don’t matter.
At any rate, Mike draws a representation of himself to the exact location where he and Brenda had their spat, precariously perched on the ledge of a tall building. Suddenly Mike is physically inserted in CartoonLand, too! I hope you are taking notes, because there will be a test later.
During Mike’s odyssey, he stops at a coffee shop where he picks up a paper, and finds a comic strip with his personal exploits depicted on it, “The Adventures of Mike Randall.” The strip shows Mike coming into the coffee shop and reading the paper and having an encounter with a gypsy, which happens moments after he reads that’s it’s going to happen. So the gag is that in CartoonLand the comic strip shows the antics of a real person.
Of course, Mike is a real person currently in CartoonLand, so the idea is that there’s a cartoon following a non-cartoon, unfunny cartoonist, but only while he’s in CartoonLand, and this strip is capable of depicting events mere seconds from occurring.
(At this point, I curled up in a fetal position for fifteen minutes clutching my loyal teddy bear Stumpy before resuming the film. Stumpy tried to talk me out of it, but I am a dedicated cinematic masochist, and I do it all for you, my loyal peeps.)
Mike ends up tagging along on Brenda’s epic scoop hunt. Along the way they encounter lame comedic villains in a group of Russians (including Jeffrey Tambor, who in later years would become funny) and a rival, evil, lady reporter Lips Lipscomb. Brenda is aided by the mysterious, be-eye-patched Basil (Timothy Dalton, poor, poor Timothy Dalton). Basil’s purpose in the movie is never entirely clear and his actual contributions in the story could be replaced by a helpful cab driver.
Basil’s presence does add a debonair character with an eye-patch and gives Timothy Dalton a chance to dress like Zorro (no, seriously).
There is a bizarre subplot about Basil’s family requiring toxins from a rare orchid or else they’ll go “insane before their time,” which never comes to fruition. (Incidentally, is there a proper time to go insane? If so, witnessing Brenda Starr may be such an instance.)
Basil and Mike find themselves vying for Brenda’s love. All the while Mike is trying to convince Brenda to come back with him. Again, not to quibble over small details, but I had no clue what Mike means by getting Brenda to come back with him — she is a cartoon character after all, and he’s a real person who draws cartoon characters.
Does Mike want Brenda — who he now is madly in love with — to come with him to the real world? If that’s the case and assuming it’s possible, she was never there, so it wouldn’t be coming back, she’d be going there for the first flippin’ time! If it meant what I think it does, that Brenda just returns to the comic strip she somehow walked out on, what matter of consent or participation is required of her?
Ultimately, after all the shenanigans are through and Brenda has played the piano with President Truman (not a joke), gone through about 813 outfit changes, thwarted multiple spy agencies, skied atop crocodile steeds (again, not a joke), and saved the newspaper, Brenda tells Mike she can’t go back with him. This leads to the following conversation:
Mike: “You’re not coming with me, are you?” (Brenda shakes her head) “At least I’ll be able to see you when I draw you every day.”
Brenda (smiling): “Only if you’re nice.”
Mike then somehow returns to the real world, and begins to draw Brenda, the only thing that has changed is that he no longer hates drawing Brenda Starr.
SO WHAT IN THE BLUE HADES DID MIKE NEED TO GO INTO THE FICTIONAL WORLD IN ORDER TO CONVINCE BRENDA TO RETURN WITH HIM? EVEN AFTER HE FAILED MISERABLY HE IS PERFECTLY ABLE TO DO EXACTLY WHAT HE NEEDED TO DO, DRAW A REDHEADED WOMAN ON PAPER!
*sigh* Like I said, Brenda Starr is the dumbest movie I have ever seen. Nothing will ever shake me from that view for the rest of the day. But who knows what wonderfully appalling motion picture tomorrow shall bring?
– Daniel J. Roos
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