Troma’s War

After Troma made the giger counters of the world of cult cinema bury their needles with The Toxic Avenger and Class Of Nuke ‘Em high, the notorious studio decided to try their hand at yet another genre that was as classically American as apple pie or buying illegal fireworks. After smearing their trademark un-PC charm on the superhero and high school movie genres, Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz turned their deranged sights to jungle-based action movies such as Rambo: First Blood Part 2 and Chuck Norris’ Missing In Action franchise, films that where orginally made to add some explosive catharsis to the Vietnam war by having a single dude settle the score in a sense of cocaine fueled patriotism. Surely openly mocking a genre that’s known for being notoriously un-self aware would be an open goal for the mischievous filmmakers – and yet Troma’s arguably most ambitious project didn’t manage to hit it’s targets quite as well as it could have…

A plane loaded with residents of Tromaville has crashed onto a mysterious island and as the survivors pick themselves out from the smoking wreckage and entwined, mangled bodies they soon realise that their asses have landing in a textbook frying pan/fire scenario.
In an act of flabbergasting bad luck, the island the plane has plowed into turns out to be a training ground for terrorist insurgents who are being bankrolled by Cuba to wage a multi pronged war on the American way of life. Those captured are subjected to inhumane treatment at the hands of an insane neo-nazi (he’s convinced the black, catholic priest is Jewish and will not be told otherwise) and the others in the multi-cultural group have to band under used car salesman and slightly unhinged Vietnam vet, Parker, to survive. These include everyman Tyler who has his eye on the initially hostile Lydia, mysterious Englishman Marshall (who came armed with a blow pipe and poisoned darts even before the plane crashed), Jewish grandma Dottie and the members of a rock band who have to overcome their fears and fight the terrorists at the only game they understand – by bloodily mowing them down with endless waves of machine gun fire.
As these everyday shmoes become Rambo-esque killing machines virtually overnight, they’ll have to engage the bizarre villains on their very own doorstep who include Señor Seda (which basically means Mr. AIDS in english and who is the cult leader of of the AIDS Brigade), the snorting, pig-nosed Major Schwieneheart and the conjoined twin Nazi’s who are the brainchild of the whole operation. In order to survive and save America, this mismatched group of housewives and doughy ordinary Joe’s are going to have to rack up an Old Testament style body count – but can they possibly hope to stand against an entire island full of perverted lunatics and murderous idiots?

While Troma is usually quite successful when choosing their targets to mercilessly lampoon, both Kaufman and Herz seemed to have out smarted themselves when choosing to try and kick lumps out of the patriotic actioners of the 80’s. As anyone will attest who’s ever sat down and watched the unfettered lunacy of Canon’s 1985 Chuck Norris terrorist smasher, Invasion USA; the genre was pretty much out of it’s mind to begin with with even it’s saner entries featuring scenes like Sylvester Stallone evening the score for abandoned ‘Nam POWs by shooting things with exploding arrow heads – how can you possibly take the piss out of something that’s so over the top to begin with. The short answer is: you can’t – not the way Troma is trying to; anyway. You can’t out-cheese the awful Missing In Action 2, you can’t over-exaggerate Rambo and you certainly can’t make something like the aforementioned Invasion USA look stupid via heavy handed satire when it’s perfectly capable of doing the job fine all on it’s own.
In fact, the genre it’s trying to mock is so mental that at numerous times you actually forget it’s supposed to be taking the piss and just assume that it’s dumber than usual action flick until Troma has to pull out something extra fucked up just to get noticed.
This is chiefly because Troma’s usual brand of violently un-PC humour actually gets lost in the near endless clatter of machine gun fire that takes up the majority of the running time and just doesn’t seem that outlandish compared to it’s peers, even though the filmmakers are dying to shock. A defiant priest (played by Toxic Avenger’s Cigar Face) having his tongue ripped out and then getting shot in the head may be brutal… but it’s no worse then any of the gruesome carnage to be found in the flashbacks of, say, 1980’s dubious scum-classic The Exterminator and so the only parts where the old Troma magic shines through is when the film successfully forms a symbiosis between being frenziedly violent and incredibly childish.
So cue scenes of the 70 year old Dottie mowing down goons with a M60 after complaining of haemorrhoids, the rapey Señor Seda facing justice by getting shot in the dick with a crossbow and a female band member forcing a grenade into the mouth of a would-be abuser after forcibly separating those Nazi twins with a machete. It’s only when they play uber-weird that the filmmakers manage to finally skewer the movies they’re attempting to mock – but even then (and I’m going to immediately go back to once again referencing Invasion USA), there’s nothing here to match the unintentionally hilarious sight of Richard Lynch firing a bazooka at a surban family as they put their christmas decorations up – I mean how the fuck do you top that?
With The Toxic Avenger and Class Of Nuke ‘Em High, the loveable scamps Troma had nice; easy targets to launch their cynical and gory jibes at but with the action genre, they seem to have simply met their match by squaring up to movies that are so ridiculous and tone deaf to begin with that even the final shot where the surviving cast yell “AMERICA!” directly at the camera doesn’t even seem that much like an over the top joke.

But then, with the benefit of hindsight, maybe Kaufman, Herz and co. were simply ahead of their time and were too close to this era to manage to ape it to any great effect  – after all, Trey Parker and Matt Stone nailed it beautifully with 2004’s Team America and even Hot Shots Part Deux managed it to a lesser extent in 1993.
Still, a rare swing and a miss for a movie that, despite the goofy acting and silly gore, must still be the largest sized movie Troma has even worked on and even though it’s far from dull, it’s barely mentioned even though it’s ambitious action scenes and huge scale is oddly impressive. However, for Troma – as well as us – war was indeed hell.

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