Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988)

Posted: February 28, 2016 in Movie Review
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Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988)

Director: John DeBello

Starring: Anthony Starke, George Clooney, Karen Mistal, Steve Lundquist, John Astin

I’ve seen post-apocalyptic movies where killer robots from the future are hellbent on wiping out mankind. I’ve seen movies where people were hunted for sport. I’ve seen movies where an oppressive government controls everything and there’s just no stopping it. Hell, I’ve seen movies with endings so bleak that I feel as though I’ve been somehow altered by the experience. But a world where tomatoes have been outlawed, which then changes the don’t-screw-with-it recipe for pizza forever, and everyone seems okay with it? This, ladies and gentlemen, is madness! It’s also the first of many good jokes to be found in “Return of the Killer Tomatoes.”

We finally have an answer as to the true cause of the Great Tomato War from “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” and no it’s not a bad acid trip. That would be Professor Gangreen (John Astin), who is still smarting from his defeat ten years later. The professor has decided that music, which was his downfall last time, shall be the source of his triumph this time around. After dipping regular tomatoes into a chemical formula, Professor Gangreen places the tomatoes into a transformation chamber. Depending on what kind of music he puts on next, the tomatoes can be changed into any kind of human that the professor so chooses. Most often, he uses rock music to create a group of soldiers. Music of a more seductive variety will result in tomatoes changing into beautiful women. To that end, the professor has created an assistant named Tina (Karen Mistal), who remains loyal until the professor casts out an improperly mutated tomato which Tina dubs Fuzzy Tomato, or “F.T.” for short.

Tina looks for shelter with Chad Finletter (Anthony Starke), nephew of Great Tomato War hero Wilbur Finletter. Chad works as a delivery boy for his uncle’s tomato-less pizzeria, which is how Tina has become familiar with him. While Chad is decidedly much smarter than his uncle, is still completely oblivious to the fact that there’s something odd about Tina. To be fair, Chad’s not the only one. Chad’s roommate Matt (George Clooney), who prides himself on being a ladies’ man, has no more of a clue that Tina’s affinity for cooking, cleaning and extensive knowledge of sexual positions aren’t merely the characteristics of what Matt considers the “perfect woman.” Tina does have her hangups, such as a complete dislike of all forms of music… and, oh yes, there’s also the fact that she bathes in fertilizer. That’s bound to cause a misunderstanding or two between Chad and Tina, which it does.

When Tina goes and gets herself captured by Professor Gangreen and his henchman Igor (Steve Lundquist), it’s up to Chad and Matt to help save her. Well, actually, it’s up to them to get caught themselves and require the assistance of F.T., Wilbur and others. From there,  they rescue Tina and foil the plans of Professor Gangreen. Another adventure is teased, this time in France, although that’s not exactly how things ended up. The next entry in the franchise is “Killer Tomatoes Strike Back,” which is only then followed by “Killer Tomatoes Eat France.” I’ve never seen either one, and I’m not sure I want to. I do fondly remember the short-lived “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” cartoon, whose characters and situations were based on the events of “Return,” though it’s all-together possible that nostalgia could be getting the best of me there.

“Return of the Killer Tomatoes” succeeds in areas where “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” failed, such as casting. John Astin makes for a great villain, and may be the only thing that makes the latter sequels worth a look if I ever get around to it. It also helps when you have a talent like George Clooney on hand, even if he’s not the lead. Though he frequently blasts the movie nowadays, it’s better than he’d have you believe. Execution is a big factor there. When the original film ran out of plot, it filled those holes with obvious humor and mind-numbing musical numbers. I won’t say that “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” doesn’t include its fair share of forced laughs. But at least the musical numbers are absent. Also, once the movie reaches its halfway point (give or take a few minutes), I can’t help but be impressed when suddenly the movie literally stops. The money for the picture has been used up! What to do? Product placement, Clooney suggests! Aided by Clooney’s ability to mug for the camera, this sequence where the characters shill for various food, beverage and dental hygiene products is easily my favorite part of the movie. It pokes fun at the ridiculous degree to which product placement intruded into movies in the 1980’s, and this commentary is even more relevant nearly thirty years later. Unless you become a die-hard fan, one Killer Tomato is probably more than enough for anyone. That being the case, if you only see one “Killer Tomatoes” movie, make sure it’s “Return of the Killer Tomatoes.”

  1. Sylvia williams says:

    Killer Tomatoes Eat France? Really? So, when this movie literally stops, do Clooney and the others break the third wall for the product placement?

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