Brenda Starr 1989
This review was decided on in part by a monthly poll over at our Patreon page where you can also join for just $1 a month to vote in a monthly poll to help decide what I review here. This is a movie that I’ve had on my radar for quite a while even though I didn’t really know a whole lot about it. All I knew was that it was based on a serial comic strip back in the day and it starred Brooke Shields and Timothy Dalton. When watching it, I soon realized that it was some cross between Dick Tracy and Cool World which is funny because both of those movies would come out just a few years later. The film struggled with a low budget, then legal issues caused it to be shelved for three years to eventually come out with little fanfare and awful reviews. Looking back at it, the film definitely has some issues, but feels a little bit ahead of its time with its bright comic costumes and tongue in cheek humor.
The film has this split focus between the real world and the comic strip world but it does very little to establish where and when this real world exists. We really only get to see the real world through the studio of comic strip artist Mike who doesn’t much care for drawing Brenda Starr so she tells him off and escapes off the page and into the unseen world of the comic strip. It seems to exist in the forties, give or take, back when the comic strip first appeared but the only clues to that are Mike’s wardrobe. Before long, he draws himself into the comic, closes his eyes, then opens them in her world where he chases after her before eventually joining her adventure for a story to save her job and the newspaper itself. The meta aspect of the story is mostly ignored outside of a couple jokes about her not having a bellybutton because of censorship, and an ending where she considers escaping with Mike to live in the real world herself.
The adventure itself is a bit of a mixed bag, Brenda goes on a cartoonish trip across various countries and multiple costume changes in search of a mysterious wonder fuel that comes in a vial, mixes with water, and can power an engine. Along the way, she’s pursued by a group of Russians led by Jeffrey Tambor, her rival reporter Libby “Lips” Lipscomb, and romantic interest Basil St. John played by Timothy Dalton just before getting the role of James Bond or Nevill Sinclair in the Rocketeer. All of the encounters are extremely cartoonish, from Brenda escaping her first capture by the Russians by using her makeup to blow powder in their faces and spray perfume in their eyes to much later in the movie when Brenda ties up two alligators and uses them as water skis. The film also oddly pushes the PG rating via Mike’s odd fascination with the fact that Brenda won’t say the word “shit”, though he ends up saying it over half a dozen times, or when her rival pays a pilot for the use of his plane with sex that we basically get to hear as the plane swerves up and down.
The film also gives us an underdeveloped love triangle between Brenda, Mike, and Basil. Dalton’s Basil is a ridiculously suave caricature with an eyepatch and a penchant for black orchids. The flowers are something that his family cultivates because they make a serum from the orchids so they don’t go prematurely insane. Meanwhile artist Mike is basically the audience surrogate everyman who fumbles his way through the adventure. Brenda and Mike share a few moments, and Mike clearly gains love and respect for Brenda, but it’s pretty obvious that Brenda never reciprocates those feelings towards him even as she contemplates leaving with him to the real world.
When all is said and done, this does have plenty of fun moments throughout. The look of everyone involved feels very much like they’re from the comics. Well, at least every outfit that Brenda herself wears, outside of her many outfits the rest of the cast felt pretty plain. Shields handles herself well enough as practically a Lois Lane type character that starts out strong getting an interview with a tommy gun toting criminal who uses her as a hostage until she saves herself as they are falling from a building by pulling him below her to cushion her fall. The film just seems to try and do so many things that half of them get lost in the weeds. The social commentary of the censorship and feminism barely gets a few lines in place of more glamour shots for Basil appearing out of nowhere to help and cock-block Mike. There was definitely some fun to be had, but it never came together in any sort of cohesive plot. Instead it was merely a meandering series of cartoonish misadventures. Fun, but never quite filling. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.