Long ago, in a Portuguese-speaking galaxy far, far away, there was “Os Trapalhões na Guerra dos Planetas,” better known in the Anglophonic world as “The Brazilian Star Wars.” The 1978 film was originally called “Star Wars” and was poised for Brazilian theatrical before the George Lucas original headed south of the border, but Lucas and legal eagles at 20th Century Fox made sure the title was switched to avoid any possible confusion. In a way, this was truly pointless since no idiot could possibly confuse the Lucas landmark with this inane offering.
Os Trapalhões, or The Tramps, were a comedy quartet who supposedly entertained a generation of Brazilian kiddies during the 1970s and 1980s in a series of cheapo movies that often ripped off Hollywood classics, including “Planet of the Apes” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Try to imagine The Wiggles deciding after a night’s worth of crack smoking that they want to become The Three Stooges and you have some idea what Os Trapalhões are all about. Their films were packed with slapstick antics and burlesque violence where everyone got abused but no one really got hurt–despite the shower of clubs, fists, rocks and blunt objects that rained on everyone’s heads, all is well by the closing credits.
“The Brazilian Star Wars” opens with Os Trapalhões speeding along a seaside highway in their banged up dune buggy while being chased by a small army of automobiles and motorcycles. Just why they are being chased is not clear, and those in pursuit don’t seem to know how to use their vehicles properly (several cyclists and cars careen into a shallow river without making any attempt to brake). This goes on for about five minutes until Os TrapalhÃµes decide to find shelter in a deserted alcove. At night while they are sleeping on the ground, they are visited by a turtle with a candle on its back. Why a turtle with a candle on its back decided to show up is equally unclear, and one of the sleeping funnymen is instantly set on fire. After jumping around in agony while flames consume his backside, one of his comrades grabs a fire extinguisher from out of thin air and begins to spray both the burning man and the other tramps as well.
Once the fire is out, the group witnesses the arrival of a spaceship belonging to Prince Flik. This visitor seems to have Luke Skywalker’s tailor, as witnessed by his white jumpsuit, but with his long shaggy brown hair and blue eyes he bears more of a resemblance to John Travolta’s Barbarino. The prince is accompanied by Bonzo, a Wookie-type creature played by a man wearing gypsy clothing and a shaggy bear mask. This intergalactic duo ask Os Trapalhões to help them in their struggle against Zuco, who possesses half of a universe-controlling “brain computer” and the Princess Mirna. Prince Flik has the other half of the brain computer and the love of the imprisoned princess, and he promises Os Trapalhões to pay them in their weight in gold if they will aid him. Being broke and somewhat pudgy around the midsection, the foursome eagerly agree and the heroes blast off in the prince’s spaceship. Actually, they don’t immediately blast off: about five minutes elapse with the prince and Bonzo pushing buttons on their control panel while Os Trapalhões stare in confusion at the flashing lights inside the spaceship and trip over their own feet.
Prince Flik’s planet is a vast desert where Sand People (or unreasonable facsimiles) live in cardboard igloos. The prince, Bonzo and Os Trapalhões land themselves in the middle of a major brawl and the fighting is presented with a mix of painfully lethargic slow motion and exaggerated sped-up action with cartoonish bonks and boinks on the soundtrack. At one point, Bonzo gets so bored he pulls out a cigarette and starts smoking. Zuco (who looks like a skinny Darth Vader) emerges from an igloo and runs off with Princess Mirna in his grasp. A Sand Person takes out a hand grenade that resembles a vibrator and blows up an igloo. From the chaos emerges four statuesque women with Farrah Fawcett hairdos and they immediately go ga-ga over Os Trapalhões.
Cut to a disco (yes, a disco), where the heroes and the babes engage in yet another brawl with hostile aliens. From there, they retreat to a lonely stretch of the desert where Os Trapalhões engage in anvil slapstick hi-jinks. One of the tramps finds a giant egg and cracks it open, liberating a giant bird (played by a man in a feathery costume and his face is clearly visible beneath the beak of the bird’s head). A huge tarantula (actually a dime store spider projected on a blue screen backdrop) menaces the heroes. There is even a brawl with an army of invisible men. And Lucas sued over this?
Eventually, Prince Flik and Os Trapalhões track down Zuco, who briefly captures the heroes and ties them up. One of the tramps is clearly enjoying his bondage, wiggling in orgiastic glee while tied tightly in heavy ropes. But the good guys eventually vanquish the baddies thanks to a ray gun that freezes the villains (or at least freezes the frames they appear in). Prince Flik learns to his disappointment that Princess Mirna disintegrated while in Zuco’s custody (an attempt to make a mask mold of her face caused her to fall to dust), but the Prince grabs one of the gals who fawn over Os Trapalhões and they start doing their own brand of romantic rhumba. The Brazilian nitwits wind up at home on Earth and find the prince is true to his word: he rewarded them with a stack of thick gold bars, which they throw with glee into the air. The film freeze-frames before the gold bars make their inevitable descent on to the heads of Os Trapalhões.
For a film with a storyline as complex as this, it may come as a surprise that it took only one month for the entire production to be conceived, shot and edited. The production was shot entirely on video, which accentuates the poverty of the material. Special effects consist of cheap toy spaceships floating across the screen while men wearing rubber masks, capes and pajamas pretend to be aliens. Incredibly, this was transferred to 35mm and shown in theaters where millions of South Americans happily paid to see it.
Watching “The Brazilian Star Wars” is like getting a telephone call from Mars: it is fascinating, to be certain, but truly puzzling. There is no escaping the fact that this is a truly terrible movie, but it is so bad that it becomes engaging in a perverse way. Films are a collaborative effort of scores of adults who possess a variety of creative skills, yet this particular film seems to be the collaborative effort of every truly untalented individual working in the Brazilian entertainment industry. The comedy is gruesome in its lack of mirth, the action is so sluggish that it is surprising the on-screen warriors didn’t fall asleep in mid-punch, the soundtrack is thick with the most mediocre disco score ever captured in a microphone, and the special effects would have embarrassed Ed Wood in their amateurism.
And yet, “The Brazilian Star Wars” is so wrong that one cannot walk away from it while it is in motion and cannot run away from it after the closing credits. Here was a situation where the filmmakers ripped off the hottest movie property of the era and turned it into the dumbest possible comedy kiddie flick imaginable. Even The Star Wars Holiday Special had more chutzpah in putting Art Carney and Bea Arthur in battle against Darth Vader or having Chewbacca’s elderly father drool over a virtual reality soft-core musical number by Diahann Carroll. Honestly, how could director-writer Adriano Stuart be so miserably stupid as grab the “Star Wars” mantle and turn out something so pathetically silly as this? This is a question for the ages, to be certain.
In grading this film, the decision to go with a one-star slam or a five-star cheer was tough. The five-star stamp wins out, because the film is so truly, truly terrible that it deserves a level of respect. It is impossible to imagine another film as ridiculous as this could exist. But then again, I have yet to see “The Brazilian Planet of the Apes”!