Duck review by Jackass Tom

It’s hard to expect a movie that is carried in large part by Phillip Baker Hall and the AFLAC duck to be highly entertaining. Even it was Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Howard the Duck I think Duck would struggle to hold audience attention. So I knew ahead of time (with little information on Duck) that there would be some sort of message attached. "This message better be damn good," I repeat to myself as I insert the DVD.

So the premise behind Duck is that in the year is 2009 (to get the right affect imagine an echo in a steel room when you say ‘2009’ to yourself) the city of Los Angeles is in some sort of environmental trouble due to global warming and tax cutting right wing administrations. Social services such as recycling or Medicare/Medicaid were either removed or slashed. Phillip Baker Hall plays an old man (a major stretch...phfft!!) named Arthur who is affected greatly by this less than compassionate government. He is left to tend to his own troubles after his wife dies. Hospital fees have raised his personal debt to the point where he can no longer pay his rent. On the day he spreads his wife’s ashes and prepares for his own death, he finds a little duckling all by himself and decides to take him home and care for him.

And from that point on, its pretty much two hours of Philip Baker Hall talking to a duck like a crazy old man. Ok that’s not fully true. There are lots of moments when he talks to characters that are one dimensional representations of some societal issues. First, there is the paranoid landlord that kicks the old man out for not paying his rent and then the lady at the nursing home who couldn’t take him because he is too healthy, and then the guy at the landfill (who is there to look angry and help explain that there are no parks, no recycling programs, and more landfills). Each characters delivers their lines as if they are sending a message in a message paid for by the democratic party. The one sided politics of the film are not only worn on its sleeve but worn as a three-piece suit. The general structure for this films dialogue goes something like this:

Some characters/scenes later on (at the Halloween party) don’t even really have that much of a purpose. For example, there is a point after going homeless, that Arthur gets invited to a Halloween party. How that happens, I’m not sure. But this scene has no purpose towards the plot and is possibly played for comedy or drama (“AHH! WHERE’S MY DUCK!?”). It just sits there in the middle of the movie as distracting filler. But it does remain consistent with most of the pieces of the movie in that it is played for comedy and is not funny. In another scene, a Chinese restaurant delivery guy gets hit by a car and takes a painfully long time to get back on his bike after the cars leave without helping him. Watching him try to get up off of the ground is one of the most agonizing moments I have felt sitting on my couch. Arthur and Joe walk over to see if he is alright. When the guy leaves, he tells Arthur he can keep the duck (hinting at some Asian Duck dish he was delivering) but Arthur doesn’t seem to understand. He gets the point that the guy left him some food he was delivering but doesn’t get that its duck. This joke is set up about three minutes before we finally see the punch line (Arthur throwing the food down in disgust and apologizing to Joe). Lots of time elapses and I’m not laughing at the guy in pain, or the fact that he gives a guy with a duck in his hands a box of Kung Pao Duck. Complete and utter failure.

So what’s the point of the story as I mentioned above? Well if it's not obvious by now, our callous government is raping the earth (represented by Joe) and sending old men out on streets (represented by Arthur) with its heartless ways of doing business. Essentially Arthur and Joe are drawn to each other because neither has a home anymore. References to “Jeb Bush being president in 2009” will give you a reference for writer/director Nicole Bettauer’s politics lie, but even before that is mentioned Bettauer makes sure you understand the message loud and clear. The message is so loud and impossible to avoid that the idea of a story gets completely muddled in a soapbox display of the scary, scary future.

Its not that I have a problem with the message itself, it just wasn’t delivered with any tact or style. It had the feeling of a very amateur film that somehow got a few B-List names (Phillip Baker Hall, French Stewart…oh God not FRENCH STEWART!?!) and put together something that’s “indy.” But there are reasons why a lot of “indy” films don’t get viewed and that’s because they lack quality. In this case, story telling and production quality is pretty low.

1 out of 10 Jackasses
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