Saturday, May 31, 2014

White Elephant Blogathon 2014: The Return of the Killer Tomatoes

White Elephant BlogathonI got lucky the first two years I did the White Elephant Blogathon. Last year, my luck ran out, and this year...well, let me just say that when I opened the email and beheld the title of my film, my blood ran cold. I'm sure I went white as a sheet. There are some right bastards throwing names in the hat and this year, I fell victim to one of them. Behold, this year's nemesis, Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988, directed by John De Bello), and despair....

The great tomato uprising is twenty years in the past, but its instigator, the crazed Dr. Gangrene, is still at large brewing up a new crop of tomato warriors who can impersonate human beings unless exposed to music. Prime among these is the wayward tomato girl, Tara, who is horrified by the failed experiments her creator so casually discards. She falls for pizza deliveryman Chad, who doesn't understand the good fortune of having a hot girl land in his lap and who has no idea of how to relate to her. Their conflicting views on the rights of tomatoes threaten to drive them apart, especially once she's discovered to be harboring a fuzzy tomato. Can Chad stop Gangrene and save Tara?

Having written what the plot of the movie entails, it's beholden upon me to note that the tomato plot? It's an excuse for a meta-movie farce that makes fun of movies themselves. This subscribes to the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker formula of throwing a lot of gags at the camera in the hopes that one or two of them sticks and of talking directly to the audience to let them know that the filmmakers are in on the joke. The main difference between this film and, say, Airplane is that the people writing all those gags in Airplane have some understanding of comedy while the makers of this film? No aptitude for comedy at all. They mistake cultural references for humor, fourth wall violations for story. It's not pretty. It's also very, very 1980s. Painfully of that decade, from the fashions to the music, and completely tone deaf to the fact that that moment in time was closing fast.

Part of the problem with this film is that, like its predecessor, it's intentionally aiming for "so bad it's good." This is a mugs game, something that no filmmaker has ever been able to accomplish. When you intentionally make a bad movie, you almost always succeed beyond your wildest expectations. Great bad movies are completely naive when it comes to their badness. You can't fake it. This film, like all such instant cult films, is cynical about its badness. This movie succeeds only in crafting a legitimately bad movie, one in which scenes that don't work play on longer than they should, in which ridiculous ideas are given flesh and damn the foolishness of it all. It all just falls flat. I'd like to think that this film really wants to be rated "R." It's often poised on the knifes edge of the salacious, but it never quite slips the leash. The closing song, for instance, is "Big Breasted Tomatoes Take their Tops Down." That should give you an idea of the level of witless "humor" this film peddles.

And then, at the end, the lead character, Chad, turns to the camera and tells the viewer how everything they set in motion in the first reel pays off in the last. A word of advice, boys: never analyze your own film in the text of the film. That's just inviting the knives to come out. You're trying too hard to convince me that your film really isn't "bad," that it's actually well-constructed, when the evidence of my eyes tells me otherwise. The only gag in the film that even halfway works is when the production breaks the fourth wall to announce that they've run out of money and when George Clooney suggests paying for the rest of the film with product placement. The filmmakers even manage a guffaw or two from this. But then they run it into the ground and by the time they break the wall again, it's turned into tired schtick. From almost clever to tired schtick in about twenty-five minutes. Impressive.

Oh, yeah. George Clooney. He's in this. I wonder if he still puts it on his CV, not that George Clooney needs a CV anymore. Of course, the filmmakers don't know that he's George Clooney, soon to be a superstar, and they act accordingly by putting him in the role of second banana. Their lack of vision is... disturbing. John Astin is in this, too. Astin's career has never lived up to the promise of his TV work. Astin somehow got stuck to this property in the same way Christopher Walken got stuck--tarbaby-style--to the Prophecy movies. The part of Gangrene is entirely beneath him.

Bad comedies tend to have relativistic time-dilation effects. Man, this movie is a slog.

This year's White Elephant Blogathon is being run by Philip Tatler over at Diary of a Country Pickpocket. If you'd like to peruse the ululations of the other victims, stop over there and take a look. My own victim got off lightly. Again. Note to self: be more sadistic next year.

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1 comment:

Don Marks said...

Please consider me an inadvertent bastard as opposed to a right one - I do have a lot of affection for this film, which I selected for the Blogathon in the spirit of recommending something a little odd and possibly underseen that might provide some small amount of pleasure.

Admittedly, I haven't seen the film in probably 25 years, a time when fourth-wall-breaking humour and product-placement gags seemed pretty cutting edge to my young self. But time, alas, marches on ...