Cinema: Love in the Animal Kingdom the Fly

Directed by David Cronenberg; Screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue and David Cronenberg HOWARD THE DUCK Directed by Willard Huyck; Screenplay by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz

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Boy meets girl. Boy gets girl. Boy is transformed into humongous, repulsive fly-human. Girl gets pregnant.

Or how about this one? Duck from outer space meets girl. Duck and girl become best friends. Duck saves earth.

Either some Hollywood Mr. Big decided that love stories needed a little interspecies spice, or they're snorting talcum powder at story conferences. No other explanation will suffice for the appearance of these two new comedy- fantasy thrillers. As it happens, both films have popular, if not honorable, antecedents. The Fly is a free, gory and engaging remake of the 1958 sci-fi horror movie, directed by Kurt Neumann, about a scientist who tampers with nature and switches heads with a housefly. Howard the Duck is a bestial bloviation of Steve Gerber's Marvel comic books of the '70s. The first film expands and enriches its schlock source; the second turns a wiseacre mallard into a $40 million promotion for stuffed Howards.

But don't bet that many kids will want to buy this duck. The movie is too scuzzy to beguile children, too infantile to appeal to adults. Its humor is sub-Mad: Howard (played by Actor Ed Gale, and some other small people, in a duck suit, with Chip Zien providing the voice) is a master of "quack fu" who reads Rolling Egg and DQ magazines. He grows angry: "No more Mr. Nice Duck." He waxes philosophic: "No duck is an island." When the filmmakers grow tired of fowl puns -- about an hour after the audience does -- they switch to space opera, and Howard battles a scientist (Jeffrey Jones, funny against all odds) whose body is invaded by a giant lobster-scorpion space troll. Moviegoers who are in search of a porno Zoo Parade may enjoy the bedroom tryst in which Howard's human sweetie (Lea Thompson) discovers a condom in his wallet, snuggles up and asks, "You think I might find love in the animal kingdom?" More fastidious viewers are advised to purchase a Daffy Duck videocassette.

Now for the good news: a gross-your-eyes-out horror movie that is also the year's most poignant romance. Its scientist hero, Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), is a kind of genius mutant. His mature brain percolates tomorrow's ideas, but his heart is as fragile as that of a child in a plastic bubble. He knows it too. "I don't have a life, so there's nothing for you to interfere with," he genially tells Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), a journalist planning a story on his research into teleportation. She gives him a life -- hers -- and their tender affair seems to vitalize him. His experiments proceed triumphantly: a woman's stocking, a steak, a baboon, all shazammed from one telepod machine to another. He proves to be an ardent lover, with amazing powers of recuperation. He impulsively performs gymnastic arabesques worthy of Kurt Thomas. It is as if his discovering the power of sexual love has electrified every circuit in his mind and body. Or could it have something to do with the night he placed himself in the telepod and a fly sneaked in with him?

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