Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! (1990)
John De Bello
Rick Rockwell (Lance Boyle), Crystal Carson (Kennedi Johnson), John Astin (Professor Mortimer Gangreen/Jeronahew), Steve Lundquist (Igor), John Witherspoon (Evan Rood), J. Stephen Peace (Wilbur Finletter)
There is no trailer for this film on Youtube, so enjoy one of the funnier scenes.
While Attack of the Killers Tomatoes! and Return of the Killer Tomatoes! were perfectly enjoyable comedies, there’s a feeling that they weren’t exactly achieving their potential. The toothy anthropomorphized tomato that graced the cover hadn’t appeared in either movie (though they featured heavily in the spin-off cartoon series) and while killer tomatoes were a presence in both films they were really more of a background element.
For such a low-budget, low-key series, Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! has no reason to be good at all. It should be cheap direct-to-video trash meant to cash in on a familiar name and nothing more. Crazily enough, this movie is the best in the series by far.
Our hero this time is Detective Lance Boyle (stand-up comedian Rick Rockwell, who had a small role as the villainous Jim Richardson in Return of the Killer Tomatoes!) the kind of quirky late-80s/early-90s police detective that popped up in everything. His wardrobe is some manner of loud t-shirt and a pair of equally horrific Zubaz underneath a sport coat. He quirkily plays with yo-yos and paddle balls and carries a comically large handgun with a scope on it.
Boyle and Tomatologist Kennedi Johnson uncover a plot by Dr. Gangreen (John Astin) who has taken on the persona of a sensationalist television talk show host named Jeronahew (a naked swipe at Geraldo Rivera) and his minion Igor (Steve Lundquist) to kidnap all the media personalities so that he can use his show to brainwash all of humanity into mindless zombies using shitty daytime TV so that tomatoes can become the ruling species on the planet. He’s aided by a small herd of killer tomatoes, now played by some fairly sophisticated puppets that make the return of Return of the Killer Tomatoes’ F.T. look even more ridiculously cheap by comparison. Oh yeah, F.T. (officially the Slimer of the franchise thanks to the cartoon) is unnecessarily back.
John Astin was wasted on Return but here in this film the writers have found a bit more of a character for the legendary comedic actor to chew on. Gangreen is more than just a goofy mad scientist trope here, he’s got more of a nasty melodramatic edge that Astin really latches onto in his performance. The chemistry between John Aston and Steve Lundquist is great as they play such doofishly menacing characters in a complementary way.
Rather than going the lovable loser route as in previous films, Rick Rockwell plays the cocky moron which suits the tone of the movie far better. (Wilbur Finletter and George Clooney’s Matt Stevens should have been the heroes of their respective movies.) Similarly the female lead, Crystal Carson, works well as Detective Boyle’s comedic foil, though the movie does play on both of them looking foolish from time to time, Kennedi is the smarter of the two by far.
Finally, criminally underrated comedic character actor John Witherspoon plays Boyle’s partner. It’s a far more learned and articulate role than many of the ones he got before and after this movie and I don’t think I need to tell anyone that he’s great as usual.
One of the big issues with the previous films was their kitchen sink approach to comedy. They both were tonally similar to whichever Zucker Brothers comedy was released closest to them. Attack was like Airplane (it actually came out a few years before it), Return is like Top Secret, and Strikes Back is more in line with the comedy of The Naked Gun or the second Hot Shots movie.
There’s a more singular comedic vision for the film this time that relies less on goofy songs and breaking the fourth wall and more on over-the-top nonsense and riffing on classic cinema and the action films of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The movie gets what it’s making fun of and it nails the look and feel perfectly.
I’m going to guess that this may be due to the fact that this is the only movie of the four that J. Stephen Peace (the actor who plays Wilbur Finletter, who appears as Boyle’s boss but has far less screen time than in previous installments) is not a writer on. Both director John De Bello and writer Constantine Dillon are credited in all 4 films but Rick Rockwell is listed in Peace’s place on this one. I’ll adjust my opinion on this accordingly after I’ve watched Killer Tomatoes Eat France!
Previous Killer Tomatoes films have suffered from being heavy on jokes but boring the rest of the time. Thanks to a more involved story-line, a better comedic through-line, a villain who is actually a character, a more charming leading man, and a leading couple who have pretty solid onscreen chemistry the movie never sags or has to heavily lean on say, a running joke about the production running out of money and having to resort to product placement.
So not only is Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! a funnier movie than either previous entry, it’s just generally a better movie. However you slice it, this movie just works more than its forebears did and really justifies its place in the series where Return did not. It’s a shame that the first two movies get so much love from cult movie distributors but this one is largely ignored.
It’s a little bit difficult to get ahold of (though it really is fairly easy to find if you go looking), Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! is easily the most enjoyable entry in the franchise thus far. It’s the movie you were likely expecting before you ever saw a Killer Tomatoes movie and it makes good use of its cast, budget, writers, and special effects. This movie needs more love, it needs to be the cult hit that it’s prequels were.
Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! is out of print and only available on DVD from private sellers but it tends to sell for pretty cheap.
Next Time on Doomsday Reels
“What am I worried about? I'm 22 years old, I'm backpacking through France... Life is wonderful. Oh, who am I kidding. Michael J. Fox is a major motion picture star and I'm making a Killer Tomatoes movie, part 4!”