Review: Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders (1989 movie)

The original Flesh Gordon was a 1974 soft-core Flash Gordon parody with not-so-great acting and a not-so-great script, but the production values were surprisingly high for a naughty movie, with decent sets and a fair amount of Harryhausen-style stop-motion animation. And there were some genuinely funny bits that elevated it well above the its genre and earned it something of a cult status.

Best of all, it contained my single favorite line in all of science fiction cinema. Shortly after arriving on the mysterious alien planet that has wandered into our solar system, the character based on Dr. Zarkoff -- see if you can guess his name in this movie -- emerges from his spaceship, soberly surveys the alien landscape, takes a deep breath, and then, after a considered pause, announces with scientific conviction, “Good. There is oxygen on this planet.”

Fifteen years later a Canadian production company, as far as I can tell entirely unconnected to the people who made the original Flesh Gordon (except presumably for getting permission), set out to make a supposed sequel. The kindest thing I can says is that Hollywood sequels tend not to be very good either. To my surprise it's rated NC-17 despite having only partial nudity and less pretend-sex than you'd see on Cinemax. Well, there is a giant stop-motion alien creature I won't attempt to describe and a pretty constant flood of sex-related pretend-jokes, so maybe that's what upset the MPAA.

There’s no shortage of said pretend-jokes -- they hit at the rate of several a minute, and they even recycle the original’s “oxygen” line at least three times -- but quantity is no substitute for quality, especially when so many of the alleged jokes are apt to gross out anybody who isn’t watching at a drunken frat party. (To give you an idea of the level of humor involved, rather than mole people or hawk people we have poo people.) The cast doesn’t act so much as mug.

All that said, I have to admit there were a few -- a very few -- things I liked, at least enough to keep watching. While the production values sometimes resemble those of a class play at a middle school hit with stiff budget cuts, some of the sets, costumes, props, and effects are decent or even downright good. Some of the jokes almost work. And of course there are the actresses, most of whom are reasonably cute and don’t mind running around topless or in microscopic cheerleader outfits or the like. I never said I wasn't a pig.

The female lead, Flesh’s girlfriend Dale Ardor, is played by a tall brunette actress named Robyn Kelly. Though the original Dale Arden of the comics and (almost) all the film adaptations (including the first Flesh Gordon) were blond, I can't object to the casting, because even though she manages to get through nearly the whole film with her clothes on, Robyn Kelly looks more fetching in a business suit (and later in a bustier, tutu, and stockings) than most of the rest of the actresses do displaying a lot more epidermis. True, she is cursed with a hairstyle that's something like a giant female mullet, but hey, look, this movie was made in the 80s, and you have to make allowances. Kelly has real screen presence, and I’m surprised she didn’t get a lot more film and television work despite having this on her resume.

(Update: Since writing the original review I was reminded that Melody Anderson's hair was brown in the notoriously campy 1980 Flash Gordon.)

Now, to be clear, I am definitely not recommending this turkey, but on the other hand, if you someday decide you want to see a naughty Flash Gordon parody and you’ve already seen the original Flesh Gordon, or you somehow, perhaps as the result of a curse, temporarily acquire the mentality of a drunken frat boy, then I’m not telling you absolutely must not to see it either. Reportedly the Farrelly brothers (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, Shallow Hal) are fans of this film, for whatever that’s worth.

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