Troma's War

Directors: Michael Hertz & Lloyd Kaufman        
Carolyn Beauchamp, Sean Bowen

After reviewing A Savage Hunger a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea if I were to review another plane crash movie, Troma's War. I felt this way, because Troma's War offers a look at the aftermath of a plane crash different than the struggles of survival in other plane crash movies like A Savage Hunger (struggle to survive the elements) and Fearless (struggle to overcome the traumatic experience once physically safe). It could be said that Troma's War does cover a kind of struggle of that to survive, but that's not its real intent. It's intent is to show that under the right circumstances, a vast range of plane crash survivors, including and not limited to grandmas and mothers with new-born children, can become fierce warriors that would do Rambo proud, blasting their enemies into bloody pieces with their machine guns.

The guys at Troma (The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke 'Em High, etc.) have had a hard time making this movie as famous as their other masterpieces. Lloyd Kaufman's book All I Needed To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger gives a detailed look at the various problems, though the one reason of several that he gives that I think is the key is that the movie doesn't have an immediate hook to it - no big monster, a la The Toxic Avenger. On the surface, it just looks like an action movie with a har-har attitude. But it goes much further than that, and it becomes apparent in an opening sequences just as stunning as the ones in Fearless and A Savage Hunger, though in a different manner.

We fade to a sunny morning on the beach of a Caribbean island, where bloody dead bodies and plane wreckage are scattered everywhere. A groggy survivor wakes up, and she slowly realizes what happened. "Oh my God.....Oh my God, we crashed!!!" Immediately we cut to a scene the night before just after the crash, where we see several people on fire running around and screaming. As the camera pans over the fiercely burning wreckage of the airplane, we hear the crying of a baby somewhere inside the flames. We cut back to the survivor still crying, "Oh my God!" over and over, and then we cut back to those people on fire, who are still screaming and running around. It's one of the greatest movie openings ever made!

Soon the survivors all gather, a diverse bunch including a punk group ("The Bearded Clams"), a priest, a blind girl, a slick dude and a young lady who's (initially) pissed off by him, and several others. It doesn't take them long to find out the island is inhabited, but by mysterious looking soldiers on patrol. And it doesn't take them long to find out these soldiers are hostile, after a patrol stumbling upon them on the beach blows several big and bloody holes out of that whiny woman, and we smile with the knowledge that she won't annoy us anymore. The survivors flee into the jungle, but know they are only temporarily safe. They soon realize that not only will they have to fight back to defend themselves, but to stop an upcoming secret terrorist invasion of America. How will this invasion be accomplished? Well, all I'll tell you here is that it's a kind of "germ warfare" brigade, which has been "trained" by a "Senor SIDA", a sleazy guy covered with sores and popping boils who decides to personally introduce one of several captured survivors to his technique of preparing the invasion force.

You think that's tasteless? Well, there's a lot more of that kind of tastelessness in Troma's War, including a woman getting messily shot in the breasts, and a terrorist sneering, "Now let's see if you've got guts!" while jabbing a combat knife into a victim's belly. ("Not much, it seems," he quickly adds, seeing the glob of guts on the end of his knife.) Of all the Troma movies (so far!), this one really pushes the limits of taste. If any of this material had been treated the least bit seriously, it would have no longer been a guilty pleasure, but just guilty, period. I think that with the description of that opening scene, readers will have figured out already that this tasteless material is treated in an outrageous manner. You may be shocked, you may be offended, but you can't take it seriously. Especially when this tastelessness is surrounded by loads of down-and-goofy humor.

For example, one of the terrorists commanders has a pig snout for a nose, and in one scene where someone calls him "pigheaded" he blurts out, "Don't (snort) you (snort) ever (snort) say tha-tha-tha-tha-that to me!" It sounds obvious and forced, I know, but it's played out in such a goofy style you can't help but laugh. I think the shift from tastelessness to goofy and back again is one of the keys that makes this movie work; we are constantly shoved into a different style, so we never quite adjust. With us unbalanced, our funny bone is more exposed. It also makes a few serious scenes more effective than they would have been otherwise. When the priest is shown singing a sad and serious hymn to the dead in the wreckage, we are taken aback by the almost sad feeling it generates.

While I'm talking about the different kind of moments in the movie, I have to be sure not to forget about the centerpiece moments in the movie - the action sequences. Some people may argue about several of my opinions about these sequences, but I think few will disagree that this movie has one of the highest body counts of all times. There are killings of all kinds throughout the movie, but what's the most notable are three endless shoot-out sequences, each having a body count equal to the amount found in several other action movies put together.

The total amount of people killed is so high, it becomes amusing instead of appalling, even though most of the victims each expire with several blood gushing wounds. The violence includes non-gun related mayhem such as women getting kicked in the groin or an elderly man using his wooden arm to beat a terrorist to death. Don't worry about characters pausing to reload - that hardly ever happens here. That's funny as well, and so is the relentlessness of the action, so much so that you might miss some gags during the battle -  in one shoot-out, a ninja with a sword can be seen running around in the background, and is never seen again.

Troma's War also has one of the best casts ever assembled for a Troma film. Everyone is great here. Jessica Dublin is funny as the elderly woman who finds herself at the end wrapped in ammo, karate kicking and blowing away the terrorists. Ara Romanoff doesn't get to do that much, but his resemblance (in looks and manner) to Ned Beatty gives him a warm and lovable charm. The most outstanding performance is that of Rick Washburn (billed here as "Michael Ryder"). He plays a used car salesman who was in Vietnam, so he shows the rest of the survivors all the tricks he knows, all the time exclaiming, "Airborne!" Let me tell you, he really gets into his part. He sprints around, speedily rolls on the ground to dodge fire, and charges into entire enemy platoons single-handed, yelling and firing at the same time. He puts so much into his performance, that he actually manages to make his underwritten part a real character. The rest of the actors give entertaining performances, as I said, though their characters aren't fleshed out much more than stereotypes.

There are a few other flaws with Troma's War, though for a movie like this, it would seem strange without these particular problems. Christopher Demarco's songs "Alive" and "Storm", played throughout the movie, are pretty cheesy, but this is a cheesy movie - it wouldn't be the same if the songs had been genuinely good. And I'll admit the songs are kind of catchy. Anyway, viewers won't have much time to think of the flaws, for they will be preoccupied with the almost constant assault of shoot-outs and tasteless humor thrown at them. Say what you want about Troma's War, but don't say that it's boring. (Note: The uncut version was viewed for this review. Stay away from the "R" rated version, which cuts about fifteen minutes from the movie and leaves it in a very frustrating mess.)

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Also: Cannibal! The Musical, A Savage Hunger, When Nature Calls