There was a time in life when we thought certain jokes were very grown-up and mature. Like space herpes. Hey, herpes is a sex disease and putting it in outer space? Only fully-formed adults would think that up! The same goes with gags about castration and giant Afros. We coveted such material as forbidden fruit when we were young, then we grew up and realized it wasn't that funny in the first place.
So it is with The Ice Pirates, a would-be Star Wars parody that stumbles on the timing, the execution and the creativity of its jokes. In other words, the jokes don't work, and if you lose them, you lose the whole movie. When you were twelve, that didn't matter, because hey space herpes! (Giggle.) Now that we're adults it's just a lot less funny than we thought it was.
In fact, the whole movie lacks the boldness to really go for broke, tingeing its satire with just enough "straight" space opera to blunt its entire purpose. We don't need a second-tier Star Wars ripoff when we have access to the real thing, and while I'm not the biggest fan of Spaceballs in the world, it at least follows through on its satirical convictions. The Ice Pirates nibbles timidly at its chosen target, then retreats into "legitimate" sci-fi adventure before striking home. The tone is off from the beginning, and with it, the derivative storyline can't help but founder.
The George Lucas playbook is certainly in effect here, with an evil empire in a distant future that thrives by controlling the water supply for the entire universe. The valiant ice pirates battle against that tyranny by stealing the water, led by cocky Captain Jason (Robert Urich) and including such future luminaries as Anjelica Huston and Ron Perlman. I don't need to tell you that their talents are left to wither on the vine, as Urich proceeds to woo a beautiful princess (Mary Crosby) en route to a legendary planet that holds enough water to keep the universe cool and refreshed forever.
The derivative nature of the story wouldn't matter so much if the jokes were more polished, or the tone more conducive to them. With a clever script, we could have laughed at the threadbare sets and shopworn cliches as part of the gag. But nothing here quite fits, and without that all-important sense of timing, the upbeat approach falls completely flat. Urich's paper-thin character can't support anything resembling a rooting interest, and the various observations about space opera as a genre hang limply on the screen before dropping off in favor of dead air. All of the characters demonstrate a kind of bland charisma that makes them easy to look at, but tough to care about, even as a fulcrum for the jokes.
The Ice Pirates can't even be bad enough to be memorable, achieving a resolute competence that ensures we won't remember a thing about it once the final credits roll. Considering that it arrived amid a glut of similar Lucas-inspired knock-offs, and considering that the years haven't been especially kind to it, its forgotten status shouldn't be changing anytime soon. It certainly isn't the worst film of the era, but definitely serves as a reminder that not everything released in the hallowed days of yore was a masterpiece. Rose-color glasses work sometimes, but not all of the time, and if yours fit for this one, then more power to you. Otherwise, just leave it be. Cinematic history is littered with misfires like The Ice Pirates, a sad fact of Hollywood life that doesn't show any signs of stopping.