[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 2 – Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (1988)

Director: John DeBello

Cast: Anthony Starke, George Clooney, Karen Mistal, Steve Lundquist, John Astin, Michael Villani

Screenplay: Stephen F. Andrich, John DeBello, Costa Dillon, J. Stephen Peace

98 mins. Rated PG.

 

The Killer Tomatoes series is almost a fantasy. Most people have at least heard of the films, but there are a select few that have actively sought them out to see that they are, in fact, real. Not only that, there was even a Saturday morning cartoon series that this writer has been searching out…glutton for punishment and all that, but these films are cultural landmarks in a lot of ways. Okay, not a lot of ways. A few ways. For example, the second film contains something major that people don’t really talk about it. I’m referring to the greatest post-credits scene in history. Oh yeah, and George Clooney (Michael Clayton, Hail, Caesar!) too.

It’s been ten years since the Great Tomato War, and tomatoes have been outlawed across the land, making pizza and pasta very strangely altered. Chad Finletter (Anthony Starke, License to Kill, TV’s Hand of God) is a delivery boy working out of his uncle’s tomato-less pizzeria, and he’s infatuated with the beautiful woman who lives with the odd and potentially villainous Professor Gangreen (John Astin, The Frighteners, What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole), and through this mutual attraction Chad comes upon a horrifying-ish truth: Professor Gangreen, who may have been responsible for the Great Tomato War ten years ago, has a new device capable of using music to transform regular tomatoes into human henchmen and henchwomen, and it’s up to Chad and his roommate Matt (Clooney) to stop him before it’s too late!

This sequel shares some commonalities with its predecessor. Mainly, they are both shoestring-budget cheap. Secondly, they are both terribly stupid. Third, they know that, and they use it to their advantage. All that being said, I actually prefer the second film, which I felt nailed the comedy and satire much better, but Return of the Killer Tomatoes tries really hard to do something unique with the narrative, something I can commend them on, but the whole story of turning tomatoes into humans for world domination just didn’t do it for me. I much preferred the simplicity of sentient killer tomatoes from the first film.

There’s a lot of comedy to this sequel, and it mostly works, although a lot of it had been borrowed from better spoofs like Airplane! and used to better effect in films like the Wayne’s World movies, but that’s not to completely punish it. I think Starke and Clooney play off each other quite well. I’ll always know Starke from his episode of the hit series Seinfeld, in which he played the third-person speaking Jimmy, and his deadpan serious attempt to play up Chad is pretty funny. People tend to forget that Clooney has some comedic chops because he doesn’t use them often, but he’s pretty funny as Matt.

The strongest and strangest performance of the film has to go to Astin, who perfectly captures the cheese required to play a character named Professor Gangreen. He isn’t given much to do, but when he’s onscreen, he’s a lot of fun. His exchanges with his assistant Igor (Steve Lundquist, Earth Girls Are Easy, The Sleeping Car) are hilariously goofy.

Return of the Killer Tomatoes is not as strongly and consistently stupid-funny as I would have liked, and some of you may not appreciate the film’s humor at all, but I found something likably dumb about the 80s-sequel. As I said, this film fits its time frame much like the first film captured the 70s, and there’s a lot of silliness to take in, but not all of it works. It’s dumb. It’s goofy. But it’s still somehow enjoyable enough.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of John DeBello’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, click here.

[Happy 20th Birthday!] Trapped in Paradise (1994)

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Director: George Gallo

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey

Screenplay: George Gallo

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for some rude language.

 

Christmas is just around the corner, so I thought it fitting to jump into the Christmas spirit by talking about a classic (at least on Comedy Central) that came to screens twenty years ago today. I’m talking about a little black comedy called Trapped in Paradise. It stars Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas, Left Behind) as Bill Firpo, the rightest of the three Firpo brothers, and the only one who can mostly ignore his temptations to commit crimes. His brothers Dave (Jon Lovitz, Happiness, Grown Ups 2) and Alvin (Dana Carvey, Wayne’s World, Jack and Jill) cannot ignore theirs, and are being released from prison due to overcrowding. Bill is begged by his paroled brethren to head to Paradise, Pennsylvania to visit the daughter of an incarcerated friend and ask her to visit her dying father. Bill eventually goes along, and for reason, he is most easily convinced to commit a bank robbery. The bank robbery goes somewhat awry, and the boys are now stuck in the town to a sweltering blizzard hitting town. They must survive being trapped in Paradise. See what I did there?

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Nicolas Cage is just terrible here. He yells and screams and Cages everything in sight. His is one of the most unlikable performances in his career. He thankfully gets outshined by Lovitz and Carvey who provide a few laughs and have good chemistry, but altogether become more of a chorus than active members of the family. They provide a hokey commentary on the events going on without really bearing much weight on the story.

And what’s the deal with this bank robbery? Cage’s character Bill spends most of the film trying to keep his brothers from committing petty theft before being easily swayed into robbing a bank? C’MON! Totally unbelievable and uninspired. Prove it to me, unheard of director George Gallo! Prove it!

I enjoyed some of the tertiary characters in this film. They play as caricatures of picturesque small-town people. If the film were set a bit more to the west, I could call it Minnesota Nice to the extreme.

Director Gallo (Middle Men, Double Take) sleeps through this film. I didn’t find myself swept up in any of the events of the film. His screenplay offers far too few laughs and far too much fluff (and this isn’t good fluff, it is crap covered fluff). Even the cast in the film looks like it isn’t having any fun in this “funny Christmas” film. They referred to it as “Trapped in Bullshit” for the entirety of the strained shoot, and it shows here.

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Part of me is drawn to Trapped in Paradise once every couple years, and when I finish it, I’m still not sure why. The film is dark and unfunny, it isn’t beautifully shot or acted, and it isn’t a plot that I can connect to in the slightest. This film exists somewhere above the Hallmark film releases but dreadfully below most anything else.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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