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The Ice Pirates
Reviewed by Mark Bousquet, © 2011

Format: Movie
By:   Stewart Raffill (director)
Genre:   Sci-fi comedy
Review Date:   September 12, 2011

Even their robots are insolent." -- Supreme commander

There are two reasons to watch The Ice Pirates.

First, just look at that cast. I challenge you to find a more interesting cast in any mid-’80s sci-fi B-movie. You’ve got the always solid, never spectacular Robert Urich, the post-Dallas Mary Crosby, the future Hellboy Ron Perlman, Anjelica Huston, who would win the Academy Award the following year, a football player, and a Carradine. Honestly, this movie has the daughter of Bing Crosby, the daughter of John Huston, and the father of David Carradine. The least recognizable name in the batch is Michael Roberts, who was in both Manhunter and Rain Man and had ongoing roles on TV in both Baretta and Manimal.

Manimal, people.


If you watch The Ice Pirates you get to see Anjelica Huston, (she won the Academy Award the following year for Prizzi’s Honor) jump into the arms and play kissy face with one of the NFL’s all-time bad boys and two-time Super Bowl winner John Matuszak, who appeared the following year as Sloth in Goonies. I can’t figure out who had the better 1985: Huston or Matuszak.

The second reason to watch The Ice Pirates. is the final 15 minutes or so, which, it turns out, is one of two parts of the movie that I remember from childhood (the other being the mechanical jaw device that chews off your dick and balls; what can I say, that sticks with a kid).

In the final act, we see the Ice Pirates battling the bad guys in a time warp of sorts, that sees everyone jump ahead in age every few seconds. By the end of the battle, everyone is running around looking old and wrinkly. It’s a really neat action sequence, and if the rest of the film had this much inventiveness and irreverence, well, it’d be a much better film.

Because sadly, The Ice Pirates. is just not very good. It’s one of those lower-budget sci-fi movies made in a post-Star Wars world, where the protagonist is a third-rate Han Solo and almost everyone plays almost every scene with a knowing wink to help you get over how the movie can actually be this bad.

The Ice Pirates is worth a watch, though. It stars Robert Urich, whose career seems to be unfairly defined by his being “Not Someone Else,” which probably stems from not having a long-running TV hit.

Vega$ and Spenser: For Hire were as close as he came, and while there’s nothing wrong with a show that lasts three seasons, it’s not exactly Magnum, P.I. or Murder, She Wrote. In almost every role he plays, you can almost see who the producers would have rather hired, and because Urich is so effortlessly good, he can slip into any role.

If you look at his career, though, you can see that most of his shows were probably made to cash in on the success of other shows. He’s at his best in Spenser: For Hire, a character that he totally made his own. It’s a shame it never really caught on.

Here, Urich is giving a modified Burt Reynolds performance. His character, Jason, might be molded on Han Solo, but Urich’s performance is more Bandit or Stroker Ace. (Oddly, or fittingly, Urich also played football at Florida State.)

He does it well, but where Reynolds is able to add some charm to his smarminess, Urich really can’t do that because he seems like such a nice guy, so when he takes a peek down Karina’s shirt while she sleeps, it just feels wrong.

There’s not much chemistry between Urich and Crosby, but it’s not the actors’ fault. It’s the script’s fault, which puts Jason and Karina in silly situations that hinder, rather than assist, any hope of a believable romance. The key with Han and Leia is that you could feel their dislike as well as their attraction, but Jason and Karina bicker like this is a sitcom.

The Ice Pirates also has a derivative feel to it, but what hurts the movie the most is that it never feels like an actual story; it just feels like a bunch of bits strung together.

They do a bit with a “space herpe,” and I swear they only do it because “space herpe” made them laugh because it doesn’t add anything to the movie.

Buy The Ice Pirates right here. Or just check out the robot pimp scene.

Mark Bousquet writes Atomic Anxiety. Buy his book, Harpsichord and the Wormhole Witches.

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