It is the far future in a galaxy far, far away and water has become a precious commodity thanks to how little is left, with only one planet containing it in any abundance. As the ruling Templars have ensured that they control the dealings with the H2O, in the form of large blocks of ice, the only way most people can get their hands on it in any quantity is through those rogues willing to turn to piracy and steal the ice from under the noses of the authorities. One of those bands of pirates is led by Jason (Robert Ulrich), but this time he finds something he did not expect...
If you ever watched Star Wars and thought, "Where are the castration jokes? This could really do with more castration jokes," then Ice Pirates was the movie for you, a spoof of the George Lucas epic in that it took the derring do of the old time pirate movie, shiver me timbers and all that, much as Lucas had adopted the old serial format, and set it in space for a science fiction space opera. Only this had an ambition to be funny, hence some very strange gags which would seem to be pitched at a different audience who would have enjoyed this better if it had been a straight ahead sci-fi effort, though granted there were plenty of those.
Future Mac and Me director Stewart Raffill was the brains behind this one, demonstrating his sense of humour in quips and comic situations tending towards the more grown up rather than what happened in your average episode of Battlestar Galactica (original version). As every pirate flick needed a damsel in distress for our dashing hero to save, Mary Crosby showed up, well cast as an imperious Princess, for banter with Ulrich and a gradual thawing of relations between her and Jason. Also along for the ride was the robot building sidekick Michael D. Roberts for misjudged racial humour, Anjelica Huston playing it very seriously as a pirate girl, and a surprisingly short Ron Perlman getting his hand cut off.
The trouble with this was that unless you were a hardcore science fiction fan who welcomed any kind of parody based on your most beloved genre as long as you got the jokes and they weren't too meanspirited at your own expense, there really wasn't much too funny here. The plot was all over the place, all over the galaxy certainly, as our heroes get captured, escape, go on a mission to track down the Princess's father, and get distracted every five minutes by a source of supposed humour, slightly amusing in its haphazard fashion, but undisciplined as it strove to pack in the oddly queasy ribticklers. It wouldn't have been too bad if it were either witty or downright daffy, but neither was the case.
Any film which could boast a cameo by John Carradine (looking positively decrepit) and a supporting role from celebrity comedian and writer Bruce Vilanch as a robot whose head comes off, not that it stops him making with the jolly japes, was at at least containing some degree of novelty value, and it's true that say, a kung fu kicking robot was likely to raise a chuckle in this context. Yet for too much of the time there were passages which didn't have any comedy at all - were we supposed to take these bits sincerely? - followed by aggressively facetious business such as the ship being invaded by space herpes (actually a slimy little parasite with teeth), or those aforementioned castration parts where Jason and company narrowly avoid the Templars' sentence for crossing them. At least the ending which gave in and turned outright goofy displayed a measure of the tone the rest of it should have opted for, with a time warp providing a ridiculous method of saving the good guys. Music by Bruce Broughton.