I was prepared for the final “March Mel-ness” movie to be particularly unfunny—my sister claimed to have walked out of it at the time—and, honestly, post-Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, everything Mel Brooks did was kind of anti-climactic, even the generally well-received To Be Or Not To Be. Hardly his fault: 1974 was a hell of a year for him. The Flower has posited, and it seems plausible, that Gene Wilder brought an extra level of heart and warmth to Brooks’ manic vaudevillian shtick.
That said, this is a cute movie that holds up very well, despite (because?) being very ’80s. In it, Daphne Zuniga and Bill Pullman play generic sci-fi action princess and rogue, with Zuniga and her robot companion (Joan Rivers’ voice, Lorne Yarnell’s mime capabilities) escaping from her wedding to the even more generic Prince Valium (Jim J. Bullock!) and being rescued by Pullman and his furry sidekick John Candy. Their rivals are the incompetently slapstick Empire-stand-in, the eponymous Spaceballs. Headed by the always great Rick Moranis and peopled with the more interesting and funny cast, the Spaceballs are largely related (family name: Asshole), commanded by George Wyner—one of those character actors perpetually stuck in middle age—and, inexplicably, featuring that most ’80s of guest stars, voice-effects impresario Michael Winslow.
Mix in Brooks’ stock characters: Himself as the corrupt mayor, himself as the Yoda-esque alien (see Blazing Saddles‘ Indian chief), the sexually voracious dominatrix (the lovely Leslie Bevis), some black people to make some black people jokes (the future “Star Trek Voyager”‘s Tim Russ amusingly enough), and Dom Deluise (who was a stock character for a lot of peoples’ movies), and you have yourself a pretty good time.
One thing that’s very nice is that, while the movie mocks the genre as a whole, and has quite a few notable direct parodies (like John Hurt, as himself, re-enacting his famous scene from Alien, “Oh, no, not again!”), the movie doesn’t really lean on them. There’s parody, reference humor, slapstick, vaudevillian sex jokes, along with just situational comedy adding up to a fun, if not especially amazing, time.
We all liked it, even if it was fourth on the list of four. Some of us might, maybe, put it ahead of The Producers, which we primarily like for the actual musical. But it’s hardly offensive, either comedically or socially, at least relative to Brooks’ other films, so I’m not sure why anyone familiar with Brooks would walk out. It’s probably offensive today, though the whole “combing the desert” gag is akin to the worst dad joke ever—is saved by the black guy twist.