What does it say about me that I've wanted to see this movie for about fifteen years? Nothing good, I'm sure. I only knew of it through endless perusings of Leonard Maltin's film guides (it should surprise no one that he thought this movie was awful), but didn't care. I've always loved the original 1978 Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and a surprise appearance of the first sequel, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, on Comedy Central (surely it was there...) that I taped years and years after that didn't let me down. I'm sure many will be horrified to learn that there are actually four films in the Killer Tomatoes series, and that, in fact, there was an animated kids show as well (which I have seen some episodes of).
Lance Boyle (Rick Rockwell, later the "multi-millionaire" attempting to be married by way of a gameshow) is a "city cop" with a ridiculously childish apartment, filled with toys and garish decoration who is being assigned lame cases to work by his superior, Capt. Wilbur Finletter (J. Stephen "Rock" Peace--a California state Senator [!] who began a crusade against Enron before it was finally crushed publicly, reprising his role from the prior two films). He's assigned to Elvis sightings at the local bowling alley (I'm of the mind Igor was behind them by the end of the film) and the like, but most recently to a double homicide--attributed to tomatoes. Finletter, as veteran of both "tomato wars," is completely willing to believe the round, squishy red fruit* are behind the crimes. Boyle, arrogant and self-centered, sneers at this (even as he is made sick by the crime scene), but takes some renewed interest when renowned 'tomatologist' Kennedi Johnson (Crystal Carson) arrives to proclaim her belief in the tomato theory. Meanwhile, Professor Gangreen (John Astin as before, and again in the sequel after this) is attempting to rule the world through control of the media--he is rising (under disguise) as talk show host "Jeronahew" while kidnapping all media figures he can find. These crimes are uninteresting to Boyle except for their connection to Kennedi, so it will take serious proof before he believes in the red menace. And I don't mean communists.
I'm still sad that spoof movies like this aren't made anymore--not because they were a vital, important part of the film industry (or even all that funny most of the time), but because they had a spirit and sensibility that is sorely lacking from the modern vein of parody. Now it's clumsy, mis-paced and mis-timed references that have nothing to do with humour, even failed humour, as they seem to be more interested in slinging pop culture detritus at the script and screen than anything else, interspersed with cheap "dick and fart" jokes (to quote Kevin Smith, who does a different kind of modern comedy). There's something a little more endearing about these films, even when they fail. This isn't exactly a hilarious movie, more of a consistent bemused smile than anything else. It's not up to snuff with George Clooney-starring (yes, THAT George Clooney) prequel Return of the Killer Tomatoes, whose running gag about budgeting is one of the best I've seen, ever. It's not up to snuff with the old "ZAZ" films (Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker--the team behind Airplane! and Police Squad!, though David Zucker has flushed away comic timing for cheap, lazy, snotty, political polemic). But that doesn't make it bad. The entire series is maligned by this inexplicable group of people that doesn't understand that the tomato attacks are not supposed to be realistic or frightening. The stupidity of them is the entire point, yet some people stubbornly insist that they fail to look "real"--I cannot comprehend what kind of drugs are involved to come to these conclusions.
I hadn't seen this one before, so I was actually almost shocked and definitely somewhat amused by the rather early choice to mock 1980's fashion in a film released the year after the decade ended (and before such trends would have completely died off). Boyle is a complete fashion victim, wearing suitjackets over t-shirts--with tigerprint or similarly gaudy billowing pants below this (his outfits were provided by Life's a Beach). Donahue and Geraldo are obviously pretty openly lampooned, but this was a little more in keeping with existing comedic trends. Rockwell and Carson are actually a continuation of the Return trend of middling to poor actors with good comedic timing being cast in Tomato films, as they are not (like the film itself) laugh-out-loud funny or anything, but there's never a feeling that they missed or wasted an opportunity because they didn't understand it. They act appropriately for the over-the-top kind of characters they were playing, Johnson being livid at the ineptitude and ignorance of the smug Boyle by launching into a rather earnestly angry tirade. I was a bit surprised here, but I guess I shouldn't have been. Peace (who co-wrote all the films), De Bello (who directed AND co-wrote all of them) and Costa "Constantine" Dillon (who also co-wrote all of them) are reliable, and even Rockwell was involved in the original's writing as well as that of this one.
John Astin is always a pleasure, happily hammy in his demonic role that usually ends up boiling down to something mundane--here he wants to rule the world so he can stop waiting in line, getting salad dressing on his salad against his requests and prevent old ladies from holding up the line at buffets (amongst other things). Also returning is the peculiar "FT" puppet (it stands for "Fuzzy Tomato," of course!), who appeared not only in the prequel but again in the cartoon.
Do I recommend this movie? Probably not. It's fun and amusing, but I think the lines it straddles (or re-draws without a ruler, perhaps) are a little too "off" for most people, and few would take any kind of enjoyment from it. They'd have to have a mentality toward it like mine. If you like the first two, give this one a shot, but don't expect the quality of the first two. Money was clearly tighter, though the new face-d tomato puppets are actually pretty great and look decent for what I can only imagine was a hideously small budget.
*OK, the clarification I was given at some point and have stuck by is this: tomatoes are fruit. They are cooked like vegetables, though. But they remain fruit in "taxonomic" terms.