Blame it on Abdul Aziz al Ibrahim. He’s the billionaire Saudi Arabian sheik — and die-hard Brooke Shields fan — who, in 1986, agreed to pour $22 million into a live-action version of the popular comic strip Brenda Starr, with Shields as the rambunctious, redheaded reporter-adventurer who’s always dressed to the nines. There was only one hitch: When the film was ready to be released (five years ago), Ibrahim refused to give an inch in negotiating the distribution and TV rights.
Was he greedy or simply embarrassed? With its legal-financial hassles resolved, Brenda Starr has finally been taken out of mothballs. Curiosity seekers can now see for themselves that Ibrahim’s real folly was backing one of the worst movies ever made.
As Brenda, the always exquisite-looking Shields — who was 21 when the film was shot — comes off as a giggly (if spectacularly elongated) high school princess. Trekking from New York to Puerto Rico to the jungles of Brazil, she delivers her thought-balloon dialogue (”Oooo, Libby Lips, how dare you?!”) with the amateurish enthusiasm of someone desperately trying to sound like a real adult. By the end, as she skis across the water on the backs of crocodiles, she has become a camp icon to rival Maria Montez. Even taken on its own spoofed-up terms, Brenda Starr is so flaccid and cheap-looking, so ineptly pieced together, that it verges on the avant-garde. I suspect they won’t even like it in France.