George ClooneyKiller Tomatoes
Return of the Killer Tomatoes!
Medium: film
Year: 1988
Director: John De Bello
Writer: Stephen F. Andrich, John De Bello, Costa Dillon, J. Stephen Peace
Keywords: comedy, parody, low-budget
Country: USA
Actor: John Astin, George Clooney, Teri Weigel, Michael Villani, Harvey Weber, Karen M. Waldron, J. Stephen Peace, Anthony Starke, John De Bello, Rick Rockwell, Steve Lundquist
Format: 98 minutes
Series: << Killer Tomatoes >>
Website category: Comedy
Review date: 10 June 2008
"I was in the famous worst film ever, Return Of The Killer Tomatoes. That one's so bad you just watch it front to end with your mouth gaping open." - George Clooney.
Preamble before I wibble. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was zero-budget nonsense shot by a bunch of friends, possibly while drunk. Nobody in the entire world ever saw it. It's great. This sequel had money, a script and actors you've also seen in real films, which makes it the Killer Tomato film that people have heard of. Unlike its predecessor, it feels like the work of professionals. Nevertheless some people I know of seem to feel it's shockingly bad.
They are of course wrong and it's hilarious.
What's more, my opinion was the same even twenty years ago when I hadn't heard of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, so the film must be doing something right. Scrunching up my brain helps me see where the hate must be coming from, but it still puzzles me how anyone could watch this without laughing their heads off. Maybe they're broken or something. At least with Attack it's obvious why it isn't for everyone.
The secret is the tone. Attack was nothing but a mountain of gags taking the piss out of anything, especially 1950s B-movies. Return keeps that. It does it all within a more solid cinematic framework, but it still has the same basic idea. This means becoming all the bad things it wants us to laugh at, so believe it or not we end up watching a film within a film within a TV show. They stop the film so that the director, actors and crew can discuss product placement. The whole thing's being shown as the Movie of the Week on a low-budget TV station so terrible that I don't have anything to compare it to because I've never seen anything like it in Britain. Not satisfied with having broken the fourth wall, the closing credits find and demolish a fifth.
In short it's deliberately being bad, although taking this on face value would mean overlooking the fact that this is how parody works. Look at Team America: World Police. Funniest film of 2004, precisely because it's cliche-ridden schlock with laughable special effects.
What's more, I hate fourth wall gags. I can't stand them. I always used to say Spaceballs was the only film to have made me laugh at the things, but I'd forgotten Return of the Killer Tomatoes. The secret is that they actually have gags waiting on the other side of the fourth wall, instead of just expecting us to be amused merely by them having broken it.
So there's a plot. It's daft, but it's well-constructed and gives the film a framework. There are even characters, played by actors! Some of these are returning from the previous film and they do better than you'd think. They're amateurs standing next to professionals, but they have the required energy and willingness to look stupid. I only saw two bad performances, although I'm using "bad" in a way so specific as to be almost meaningless in any other context. One is a walk-on character with something similar to an Italian accent. That was poor. The other is, oddly enough, the most experienced actor in the entire movie.
It's John Astin, the guy with the grin. I love Astin's grin. He's an actor who's been working for over fifty years now and is best known for being Gomez in the TV version of The Addams Family. I love him and so it was a shock to see him misjudge the tone here. He returned for all the other sequels and so presumably was fonder of them than Clooney was, but he doesn't seem to have realised how difficult the role of Professor Gangreen really is. He plays it a mile wide, basically. Giving up acting in favour of overacting can sometimes work in the film's favour, but it would have worked so much better if he'd tried to think his way past lines like "you bungling buffoon" instead of just shouting them. At his worst, he's giving an empty performance. However having said all that, he's still a charming and funny actor who's highly effective for much of his screen time here and I'm looking forward to seeing more of him in the sequels.
The most famous actor here of course is Clooney, who's not even playing the lead. Instead he's Matt, the lead's sleazy best friend. It's a smaller role, but he turns it into a better one. He may not appreciate this film, but he's excellent in it and nails the tone perfectly. He's both subtle and broad, plus of course funny. I particularly loved his spaz attack in the tomato storeroom, which I'd never expected to see from him. Amusingly one of his character's scams involves a "Win A Date With Rob Lowe" competition, despite the fact that Lowe nearly killed his career by having sex with underage girls in the year this film was released and ended up a far lesser star than Clooney.
As a further aside, one of those "Win A Date With Rob Lowe" contestants is played by Teri Weigel in the days when she was still doing Playboy centrefolds rather than hardcore porn. She later shows up in Matt's bed. When Matt produces a copy of Playboy during the same scene, it's from the month with Teri on the cover and she even copies her pose in the photo by putting a toothbrush in her mouth.
The only thing I really dislike about this movie is Finletter's assault squad. They were fine in Attack, but here they make the audience wonder who these losers are and why they're popping out of nowhere? Best would have been to omit them entirely, but they might also have worked if they'd been mocked more blatantly. We're obviously not meant to take them seriously, so why not have them walk past (and not notice) the "Laboratory" sign the moment they enter Gangreen's house? Fortunately they're not in it much. Unfortunately their screen time comes at the end, so you go away remembering them best.
The music is poor, which is disappointing since I'd really liked the music last time. This time there's eighties rubbish. However I can forgive anything of a soundtrack with a song called "Big Breasted Girls Go To The Beach And Take Their Tops Off".
This is a really clever stupid film. It's packed with so many different kinds of gags that none ever get old. Gangreen's lab assistant Igor for instance is a wonderful character. He and Gangreen also have similar smiles, which startled me when they suddenly grinned together. There are at least four completely different takes on the idea of terrible TV and they're all funny. I could sit here quoting all day. There's even Nudity Behind Frosted Shower Glass, which may not sound like much but is better than nothing. I adore this movie. Always have, always will.