If nothing else, Return of the Killer Tomatoes is proof that you don’t need to see an obscure film in order to get sucked into its sequel. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was a weird, funny film but when its first sequel came out in 1988, few people would have remembered instantly the first movie. And why would you when you have George Clooney as a sidekick, the gorgeous Karen Mistal as Tara and John Astin hamming it up as the evil and insane Prof. Gangreen? Trailer and review after the break.
Set of the fictitious Great Tomato War of 1978, the US is at peace and has banned tomatoes in every form. People who are caught at the border smuggling in the hated vegetables are fined and arrested. Wilbur Finletter (J. Stephen Peace), a hero of the great war, has retired to open his own pizza shop that doesn’t use tomato in its base ingredients but instead uses chocolate, fish and other weird combinations on them. Wilbur’s nephew Chad (Anthony Starke) works for him as well as Chad’s friend and roommate Chad Stevens (George Clooney). Of course, no movie about killer tomatoes would be complete without a villain and in this film we get the redoubtable John Astin as Mortimer Gangreen who has concocted a plan to conquer the United States with the villain from the first film, traitorous White House press secretary Jim Richardson, along with his new process of turning ordinary tomatoes into people. These can be beefy army looking guys (strangely, they pop into existence complete with gun), look-a-likes to impersonate critical people and yes, sexy girls. This includes Tara Boumdeay, who after spending her days cooking, cleaning and having sex with the Professor, runs away with fuzzy mutant tomato FT to Chad. This is explained by her saying that Chad was the only person other the Professor that she knew (he delivered pizza to Gangreen’s house/lab). They then have immediate sex because that’s what Tara wants. Hey, I’m describing the plot outline, I’m not saying I understand it!
None of any of this matters because director and co-writer John De Bello (also same duties on the first film) is more concerned with out and out absurd comedy than explaining the plot. From the film’s constant metatextual self-awareness to its deadpan delivery, Return is a veritable assault on the viewer in terms of jokes and winks at the camera, from the relentless mugging by Astin and Steve Lundquist as Gangreen’s tomato assistant and TV newscaster wannabe Igor, to the fourth wall breaking moments with De Bello shutting down production for lack of funds until a shameless amount of product placement is done. Every joke is run non-stop without pause or break, while the cast acts oblivious to the danger it might put them in. The cast seems to love going with it because when they’re done with the scripted joke, there are actual gags to be had in the bits in between. The film, for my money, successfully blends the Monty Python style of humour (the cast remark on random events even while the plot is going on around them) and the Zucker/Abrahams school (jokes are delivered in a serious manner as if the cast think they’re in a drama) without sacrificing the merits of each. Full marks to Anthony Starke, George Clooney and Karen Mistal for going all out in the pursuit of entertainment as they jump in and out of the script without blinking. While we could talk about Clooney at length because Matt’s development as the film goes on is one of reluctant sidekick to the willing participant in a decent manner, for my money the person who I like the most is Karen Mistal and not because she’s heavenly to look at. OK, she IS heavenly to look at but more than that, she spends the film saying whatever she wants and she’s the only person who doesn’t see anything wrong with what she says or does. She walks into Finletter’s pizza and point blank asks Chad if he wants to have sexual intercourse with her (his face needs its own GIF). She makes toast in insane levels and eats plant food, she is proud of what she can do with six milk bottles and a tuning fork and she’s unafraid of Gangreen thanks to her own self-awareness. In comedy films, girls are usually the last people to have fun AND make fun of others. Tara is a quirk among comedy females and I’m happy with that. John Astin is in his own little world and is completely at home ranting and raving without interruption. I love how his eyes look like he’s somewhere else whenever he gloats over his scheme. The energy he gives off in his performance feeds into other actors like Mistal, Lundquist and Clooney & Starke, giving them the chance to go back and forth.
The sight gags are spot on and while some are horrendously dated, like beer, toothpaste and other sundries, for the most part, they have the ability to lift up every single scene because you don’t know that it’s happening. Plus the regular jokes never stop.Things like the newspaper cuttings on the walls, the endless ads that play on television and radio and the fourth wall breaking scenes where the characters who don’t have actual lines know that the audience is there. The product placement in movies which is described as evil in one meta scene by Clooney is then upturned gleefully by the film’s plugging of their fictional FT fuzzy toy by story’s end. The music that plays in the background is also its own gag with suggestive lyrics playing whenever Chad and Tara are together even if the style of music isn’t able to accommodate it. The surprising lack of actual killer tomatoes despite the title of the film. Add to this the start of the film where two unnamed people are screening a booby movie and are forced to run Return instead at the same time a game show is running its competition for the world’s worse prize and you begin to understand where and in what manner the film’s humour lies.
Return of the Killer Tomatoes spawned two more sequels after it plus a cartoon series and while its 80’s vibe may not gel with some, its humour and irreverence shine through for all to see