DECEMBER 9, 2011
The original Killer Tomatoes was better than I expected, thanks to some wonderful (and still funny) offbeat humor, charmingly low-key FX, and the out of nowhere musical numbers. However, Return of The Killer Tomatoes only retains one of those elements; it's still surprisingly amusing at times (I find most comedies - particularly late 80s ones - date terribly), but there's only one song (at the beginning) and... uh, there aren't any tomatoes.
At least there's a reason for their absence - it's actually a direct followup to the original, and the events of that film have resulted in a worldwide ban on the things. One of the more inspired gags revolves around the fact that our heroes work in a pizza place, which of course doesn't have tomato sauce, so all their pizzas are made out of candy and other random foods (and look kind of awesome for the most part). When people are caught with tomatoes they are jailed, it's basically a drug in this world.
However, mad scientist John Astin doesn't go about creating new tomatoes that rampage around like in the original; instead he makes humans OUT OF tomatoes (don't ask), and these folks are pretty much the only villains in the movie. I don't know who thought it was a good idea to have body builder types and hot blond women serving as henchman as opposed to a bunch of vegetables (oh Christ, fine, FRUITS) rolling around, but they were dead wrong. I assume it was a budgetary thing, but even in the climax, we never get a single sequence of tomato carnage - the henchman remain in human form until the end. A bummer, really.
Luckily it's still a fairly amusing low budget sendup of mad scientist/monster movies, with Astin in particular having a grand old time as "Dr Gangreen". I also enjoyed the chemistry between the two lead actors; one of whom should be instantly familiar to movie/TV fans: Anthony Starke, who has appeared in almost every TV show ever, plus a few movies like License To Kill and the underrated Van Damme flick Nowhere To Run (he's the guy that busts JCVD out of prison). He more or less plays the straight man while his buddy mugs and constantly seeks out chicks and doesn't take much of anything too seriously, but scores a few laughs himself.
The other guy is of course George Clooney, and this is one of his earliest roles (after Return To Horror High though; he must have had a deal with New World). Unlike his brief turn there, he's in this one quite a bit, and while it's hardly his finest hour you can see why he became a bigger star than anyone else in the flick. If you watch him while the attention of the scene is on the other actors, he's constantly doing little facial expressions and gestures, instead of just standing there waiting for his next cue. He even scores one of the best lines in the movie: "Hey, Pope." (you'll see).
He also plays a major part in the film's most surprisingly prophetic moment - a meta scene in which the production runs out of money and is forced to shut down. Adding to the film's problems is a SAG rep who points out that everyone who speaks on camera has to be paid 400 dollars, and he enters the scene after Clooney's character mutters (to the director) "Who cares about the Actor's Guild?" Twenty years later, Clooney would be one of the more outspoken opponents of the SAG's plan to strike, so I find it quite amusing that he (presumably playing himself at this point in the film) had problems with them even at the beginning of his career. This of course follows the equally "retroactively meta" moment in Horror High where his character ditches the low budget movie they are making in order to go star in a hit TV show. God bless that man.
There's actually a lot of "fourth wall" humor in the film, some of which works fine (I like that the guy has to ask if there's been a chase in the movie yet), others not so much (pointing out that everything that was set up in the first act paid off in the last, though I did like the little stinger with the pizza dough). As with the first, it's very much a ZAZ-style approach, where it's pretty much every kind of humor you can think of (slapstick, farce, satire, etc), but it seems more interested in making fun of itself than the original, in that regard.
It's also too damn long. The first one felt stretched at 85 minutes - this one's just under 100. The 3rd act in particular drags out forever, with Clooney and Starke arriving at Astin's hideout with over 30 minutes to go, resulting in a lot of repetitive rescue attempts and such, none of which contain any real action (or, again, killer goddamn tomatoes). And I have no idea what point the scuba diving guy was supposed to serve. They also drag the "product placement" gag out far too long, and the attempts to make a Gizmo type mascot out of "FT" (Furry Tomato - the only tomato puppet in the entire movie) are largely unsuccessful. I know the first film was re-edited at some point; I'd be curious if they could pare this down to 80-85 minutes and improve things a bit.
If you absolutely hated the original, there's nothing here (save Clooney) that would lead you to say "this time they got it right!", and even fans of the original might be hard to win over considering the lack of tomatoes and what seems like an even lower budget. But if you dug that film's approach to humor, plus can appreciate a Sexiest Man Alive making an ass out of himself, then it's a perfectly decent time killer. And it has someone flat out offering a blow job despite the PG rating, so there's something.
What say you?