You’re never too old to play with green vomit.
There was a wonderful line of dialogue from an early episode of the biting cartoon The Boondocks that I’d like to share. The scene follows the protest of a lemonade stand that is being recklessly exploited by a corrupt businessman. To calm everyone down, the evil tycoon closes down the stand and unveils a “cruelty free” beverage, which the crowd blindly accepts. One protester states, “You know it’s cruelty free, ’cause it says so on the label.” It’s quick, it’s harsh and it hits the mark perfectly.
Troma’s latest release, Return to Nuke Em High: Volume 1, takes the attitude of that line and stretches it out for 90 minutes. Of course, to those familiar with this independent film studio, it’s not surprising; they’ve had this mood for several decades. But where Boondocks and Troma differ is in the delivery. Where the cartoon is angry, the film studio is regurgitating and laughing.
The Tromaville High charter school is located right next to the Tromorganic Food Stuffs plant, formerly the site of a nuclear reactor. Students are fed corporate green glowing tacos, and begin mutating to various degrees. Our heroes Lauren and Chrissy are caught in the middle of these oddities, all the while trying to understand their blossoming feelings for one another.
The movie is billed as “not your typical remake” (Return is in reference to the original film from the ‘80s). Indeed it’s not. I don’t know of many remakes that acknowledge the existence of the previous versions. There is an infectious self-awareness going on here. Scenes are paused to bring up title cards introducing new characters, jokes are made at the expense of the logic of the story itself, and so on. This playfulness can be a tad overbearing at times, but, of course, the movie doesn’t care.
To me, the only agenda Return has is to stand out. The plot and continuity really does take a back seat in any Troma movie, as the main goal is to be different. Hollywood is full of forgettable, well polished productions. Without the same resources, Troma HAS to grab your attention and hold it. How? By presenting you with body transformations, green vomit, radioactivity and, yes, even fart noises. It’s juvenile, but so well timed. It’s even daring in its willingness to be so consistently ridiculous. Why hasn’t Troma adapted the Boogerman video game?
There are plenty of catchy moments on display here, and it’s in these moments that the movie shows its passion. “Oh snap!” followed by the sound of a whip, NPR used as reasoning to excuse a heinous act, jocks eating slop very loudly and a wonderfully shot and romantically played out dance scene. These over exaggerated mannerisms, setups and lines of dialogue, however brief, help build a universe that really sticks with me. Tromaville isn’t Anytown, USA, but it is where we dump our waste. Wait — maybe it IS any town in the U.S. Hmm.
There is an overweight punk in the movie, butt exposed, that dumps a girl’s books and gives her the double finger. He walks away, unphased. That character and moment really doesn’t have to be there. It just does as a matter of fact. Return is our reflection through a funhouse mirror…at an abandoned carnival in Parts Unknown. Leave the finger pointing to others; Troma just wants to have fun. Why not?
3.5 / 5
Originally published in PROPAGANDA New Orleans.