When you are three-years-old you generally have terrible taste. But I remember explicitly knowing that Popeye was terrible movie. It was the birth of my film criticism. I vaguely remember telling my mom after we saw it that I didn’t like it. Or perhaps I am recollecting my mom’s feelings about the movie. Either way it was a let down. I was a big fan of Mork and Mindy so the film debut of Mork himself as a cartoon character I liked was sure to please, right? Wrong. As an adult with a useless film degree and a flailing career in movies I’ve watched it with a more critical eye than when I was three. What I find is that I was absolutely right in my assessment at a time where I had just recently stopped pooping in my pants. And yet, you should absolutely invite your friends together and take a shot every time a joke doesn’t land. You will pass out.
Popeye brings the classic spinach loving sailor to life, played with scenery chewing excellence from a bleached blond Robin Williams. Popeye comes to a seaside town called Sweethaven where he falls for OG ‘pro-ana Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall) and competes with Bluto (Paul L. Smith) for her boney butt. That’s about it story wise. The rest is just a bunch of weird dialogue and spastic blocking. The irony is that movie has a pretty good cast. Duvall (The Shining), Smith (Midnight Express), Ray Walston (The Sting), and Bill Irwin (Eight Men Out) all waste their talent in this turd. It was also directed by Robert Altman who directed classics like Nashville and M*A*S*H. So, what the hell happened? Well, lets start with the fact that it’s a musical. The songs are so obnoxiously idiotic that it’s been clinically proven to destroy brain matter. None of these actors can sing either. Shelley Duvall’s Olive Oyl solo He Needs Me, (see below), sounds like two cats being put in a meat grinder. The acting is at the same time over-the-top and painfully slow so the suffering lasts for an excruciatingly long time.
Popeye was a huuuugggee flop. Hollywood thought that it was going to be the summer blockbuster of 1980. Instead that honor went to a little film called The Empire Strikes Back. Still, it is so bad that it is worth watching. It is the rubric in which to judge the worst of Hollywood’s excessive hubris-driven celluloid excrement. But don’t watch it alone. If you have friends with you and you watch it with the intention of making fun of it, Popeye can be a very enjoyable target.