Last week I promised a piece on one of George Clooney’s most illustrious early films, Return of the Killer Tomatoes! It is a difficult film to write about, as it’s hard to make fun of something that refuses to take itself seriously in the first place. Honestly, Return of the Killer Tomatoes! is the best possible film about the forbidden love between a man and a woman who is actually a killer tomato that it’s possible to make, and I can’t harp on Clooney too much for appearing in it considering I’ve long based my look on his appearance in this movie.
Uncanny. However I’m sure my adoring fan base/harangued friends and family would be devastated if I failed to deliver on a promise, so let’s talk tomato.
It’s possible that you got this impression on your own, but ROTKT! is a silly movie. A screwy comedy in the same vein as Airplane or Naked Gun, ROTKT! has it’s tongue so firmly in its cheek that it’s in danger of bursting out the other side and it doesn’t so much break down the 4th wall so much as it never had the budget to build one to begin with. The film is made and set ten years after the original Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!, a film made on a shoe-string budget of $90,000 and was a surprise success making…$567,000. Somehow it managed to spawn a whole franchise, with cartoons and video games. Although everything in the 80’s got a cartoon and a video game.
The wacky precedent is set right at the beginning of the film, with the idea that the film is being presented by a low-budget cable television network. The network is also offering one lucky viewer the chance to win the Golden Jackpot ($9.22) if they can name the ‘secret word’ when the presenter calls. The secret word is ‘The’. They have to change reels to show us ROTKT! after originally putting on Big Breasted Girls Go to the Beach and Take Their Tops Off. I know all this sounds like I’m describing a fever dream I had, but it bears mentioning because, impressively, it all ends up being relevant to the plot later…so unfortunately we have to leave the big-breasted girls behind and begin the movie about tomatoes.
The world is recovering from the Great Tomato War. The fruit is now hated by all and banned. War-hero (just go with me on this) Wilbur Finletter runs a pizzeria, whose sauces are made from pretty much anything except tomato. I think boysenberry is mentioned at one point, whatever that is. On the staff of this pizzeria are our two heroes; Wilbur’s nephew Chad, because it’s the 80’s and people can be called Chad, and his roommate, wiseguy playboy Matt Stevens, because apparently Clooney was playing those characters even before he got big. To give you an idea of the sophisticated humour in this film, Clooney is tossing a pizza dough, tosses it in the air at one point, walks away and it never comes down again. If you find that kind of thing funny then you have no business reading this blog, where all the best humour comes from fucking cuss words and an over-reliance on run on-sentences. Evil scientist and devourer of scenery Professor Gangreen is using toxic waste and the power of music to turn tomatoes into people, specifically soldiers to take over the world and ohgodthisissodumbithinkimgettinganosebleedwhatshappeninggoodnightirene-
-sorry. I’m all better now. Chad, who is a failure of a human being because his name is Chad, is trying to make time with the Professor’s assistant and lover, the beautiful Tara. Unfortunately she seems quite cold. It’s almost as if she’s not fully human or something. (SPOILER ALERT: she’s a tomato person. She turns back into a tomato is she hears Beethoven’s 5th. It’s better for my brain if I don’t explain.) The Professor also has another assistant named Igor, who for reasons I don’t really understand, wants to be a t.v. newscaster. The plot, such that it is, is kicked off when the Professor discovers a ‘mutant’ tomato in his batch, which is a fuzzy tomato toy with legs that may honestly be the best actor in this movie. He tries to get rid of it, Tara decided to rescue it and runs away to Chad’s pizzeria, as he’s the only person she knows.
What follows is the most illicit romance between person and food in cinema history, with the possible exception of that one scene in 9 ½ Weeks. Tara uses her subtle wiles to get Chad to take her to his apartment, telling him “I speak perfect English. I also cook 815 international dishes, perform 637 sexual acts and use all the popular home appliances. Shall I cook you something?” Surprisingly, he both resists this and the offer of a blowjob and ironed pants, but eventually they go back to the apartment. Chad starts dating the Tomato Woman, especially after she gets the George Clooney seal of approval. From what hack comedians tell me that’s very important to you ladies.
The two get closer, the Professor and Igor are trying to track down Tara and her Fuzzy Tomato (behave yourself) yadda, yadda, yadda. For about 45 minutes, it’s just your run-of-the-mill madcap tomato romantic comedy, but then things get weird. There’s a scene where Chad and Tara are arguing over F.T. Chad hates tomatoes, not knowing that his girlfriend secretly is one, which would be an interesting bit of dramatic irony, except tomatoes. The scene is interrupted by the director saying that they have no more money to continue the picture. Now it’s George Clooney’s time to shine, as he suggests that they get movie from doing a lot of product placement. A member of the Screen Actor’s Guild shows up (?) and says that every extra who speaks has to be paid $400. Including himself. I like to imagine this movie was a direct influence on Charlie Kaufmann.
Clooney’s screen time in the movie begins to pick up, starting with a scene which basically amounts to him and a visitor to the pizzeria spouting brand names to get some of that sweet product placement money. Pepsi, Nestle Crunch Bars, Moosehead Bear, Foster’s and Crest toothpaste, complete with shots which only have the products in frame. It’s still less obvious and shameless than the product placement in an Adam Sandler film. Then, a Muammar Gaddafi shows up asking for falafel (??) who wrestles on the floor with Chad’s uncle (!!) Then the cowboys come in (!?!) and fight the ninjas (¿¿¿) while Clooney holds up a box of Kellogg’s Cornflakes (%#©?¢). I’m not quite sure what’s happening here, my theory is that the screenwriter fell asleep face-first on the keyboard and this was the result. Either that or it’s our good friend padding again. The stuff with Gaddafi at least has a point, as it turns out that’s in not the Libyan dictator at all, but Sam Smith, an old war-buddy of Wilbur’s and alleged master of disguise.
I’m going to start speeding through the plot a bit because otherwise this post about a tomato movie will end up longer than my research paper. Chad notices Igor following him so he decides to follow him back, he discovers the Professor’s laboratory where tomatoes are turned into Ramboes using toxic waste and he runs home to tell George Clooney who doesn’t care and he goes into his room and discovers Tara is a Tomato Person because she’s sharing some plant food with the Fuzzy Tomato and they do that hacky comedy bit where everyone’s screaming and she runs away and Igor kidnaps her and holy shit I wasn’t kidding about that run-on sentence stuff I really need to work on that.
Look, there’s not really much else to say. Chad and Clooney go the laboratory to rescue Tara. They do. There’s a lot of shouting and slapstick. The Fuzzy Tomato makes a noble sacrifice and jumps on a grenade but then turns out to be alive. The space in my brain used to store this information pushes out some French verbs and the events of the American Revolution. I’m assuming the British won? Actually there is something worth mentioning. The Professor is defeated when he answers the phone and says “No, I don’t know the secret word of the day!” The subsequent fanfare over him uttering the word ‘the’ allows the heroes to get the drop on him. The goofy opening of the movie pays off and I’m forced to eat my words snarking at this cornball screenplay, especially when that pizza dough finally falls on Clooney. The film ends with humanity no longer hating tomatoes, Tara transformed into a Real Girl because of poison gas or whatever the fuck and George Clooney running on the beach with a throng of Tomato Bikini Babes of his own creation, which I’ve decided is the basis of his dating life in reality. So ends Big Breasted Tomatoes Go to the Beach and Take Their Tops Off, notwithstanding a few more last-minute gags the screen writer just couldn’t let go of.
As strange as it sounds, I actually think I would recommend ROTKT. It’s completely cornball and spends so much time winking and nudging at you you’d be forgiven for thinking the movie was having a fit, but it throws so many gags at the wall, something’s bound to stick. Plus, you can tell people you’ve seen something called Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes, which is sure to stop you from being a disappointment to your parents...
Happy Father’s Day everybody!
Extra Points and Interesting Notes
- There’s a running gag going on in the background where every time there’s a t.v. on, it’s yacht racing, except the yacht racing has cannons and pirates and such. I want that to replace dressage at the next Olympics.
- Two more sequels were made; Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! (1991) and Killer Tomatoes Eat France! (1992) George Clooney was unavailable to return.
- Professor Gangreen is played by veteran actor John Astin, original Gomez Addams and father of Sean Astin, Goonie/Hobbit.
- If you’re interested, the entire film can be seen on YouTube, the distributors not caring enough to file a copyright claim, for some reason.
Don’t forget to like and share and all that good do-my-promotion-for-me stuff. Next week, discover how Adam Sandler’s wretched film career goes back even further than you thought, as I watch 1989’s Going Overboard! Already, I welcome death!