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Review: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

The humor is mostly milked from self-reflective, meta-movie badness.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
Photo: NAI Entertainment

John De Bello’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is in that thankfully small subgenre of film I like to call “frat guy camp,” which also includes National Lampoon Goes to the Movies and Kentucky Fried Movie (the genre’s sole shining light). Their humor is mostly milked from self-reflective, meta-movie badness (the element that’s missing from such modern-day imitators as American Pie and Dorm Daze), and they’re marked by gentle “we’re just kidding but hey, we did say it” racism, sexism, and homophobia (the element that’s unfortunately still hanging around). If Attack of the Killer Tomatoes has anything going for it nowadays, it’s that the word “fag” is only used once (“Tomatoes are fags,” says one character, to which another responds, “He means fruits.”). That’s pretty sparse for a ‘70s comedy.

But crassness comes in other forms than mere isms. Early on in the filming of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, a botched helicopter landing nearly killed TV star Jack Riley (of The Bob Newhart Show). But as no one was actually killed and the cameras rolled through the entire, unbelievably goofy-looking mishap, into the final film it went. Tasteless as the decision is, you can’t fault the films’ creators for recognizing the only juicy piece of filming they had. But even more so than the Samuel Arkoff-like opportunism of the producers, and more so than some of the worst framing this side of Coleman Francis, the really frustrating thing about Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is the toothlessness of its satire. And that’s a major missed opportunity, considering that the irony of using a stereotypically foreign genre (Japanese monster movies) against a parody of America’s jingoistic reliance on military power (the Army is useless against the giant tomatoes) should’ve been a comedic gold mine.

Cast: David Miller, George Wilson, Sharon Taylor, Steve Peace, Jack Riley, Ernie Meyers, Eric Christmas, D.J. Sullivan Director: John De Bello Screenwriter: John De Bello, Costa Dillon, Steph Peace, Rick Rockwell Distributor: NAI Entertainment Running Time: 87 min Rating: PG Year: 1978 Buy: Video

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