Lloyd Kaufman has proven with Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1 that you can go “back to the well” and resurrect a bawdy riot that was started more than two decades ago. The filmmaking ringmaster returns to Tromaville to continue the story of plagued teenagers who are slowly mutating due to exposure of toxic waste.
The nasty nuclear power plant (which was stationed beside the high school) has been torn down, and a corrupt food plant has taken its place. The food is littered with radioactivity and its no secret to those who provide it. When shown green glowing product, the boss of the factory (played by Kaufman) answers, “well, you wanted to go green, right?!”
Soon, the food is delivered to the high school and is scarfed down by the unruly students of Tromaville High School. The raw food mutates teenagers but takes a particular nauseating turn on the school’s glee club. The off-key nerdy musicians are given a bad ass makeover (including the removal of their tin ears) and become the film’s “Cretins”.
Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1 wishes to be a semi-remake of Troma’s schlocky classic, but Kaufman’s comedy has its wires crossed.
Tubs of radioactive slime dress shady sets in the film. Return to Nuke’ Em High is like the cinematic equivalent to one of these steaming containers. It’s disgustingly funny and over-the-top, its ickiness is enough to make you squirm, but its overstuffed zealousness causes a glaring mess.
I’ve enjoyed most of the Troma films I’ve seen, and I even go as far as to consider myself a fan. Lloyd Kaufman’s integrity as a filmmaker is admirable and the overall communal filmmaking process behind each movie displays how faithful these crews are to genre moviemaking.
The films that roll out of Troma have playful qualities to them and appear to be unaware as to how boorish their movie gets. The ragtag groups always have their heart in the right place – even if that means splattered on the floor squirting out countless bloody squibs.
When the films go too far, its those happy-go-lucky attitudes that save them from going down a dark hole. If these films are your cup o’ tea, all you can do is laugh along and shake your head. Either way, you’re having fun because the filmmakers don’t know any better. They’re too busy entertaining you in grotesque ways.
In the case of Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1, Kaufman and his bratty co-writers (Travis Campbell, Casey Clapp, Derek Dressler, and Aaron Hamel) know exactly how offensive they’re being. It’s this arrogance that causes friction between the film and the audience, hindering our ability to like the film as a whole for its original foolish appeal.
While the film starts with an incredibly strong collection of hilarious one-liners, slapstick, and sight gags, its the film’s politically incorrectness that gets in the way.
With Troma, no one is safe. If a current event or taboo crosses the film’s path, you can bet its getting wrung through Troma’s laugh factory. Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1, however, goes out of its way to make off-colour remarks and peabrain jokes about school shootings and controversial news headliners. The screenplay annoyingly tries to shoehorn too much “edginess” and it drifts Kaufman’s focus off of whatever film he wants to make.
The remake angle gets scrapped as new characters are being introduced. Luckily, each actor is playing their showboating roles well while knowing exactly what type of movie they’ve signed up for – which briefly distracts us from the problem. Clay von Carlowitz is hysterical as an insane, sexually pent up poser and our female leads (Chrissy played by Asta Paredes and Lauren played by Catherine Corcoran) know how to make their campiness captivating among the absurdity.
Paredes and Corcoran have scenes that endlessly carry on, unfortunately. For instance, the love scenes are stretched until the seams are showing. Kaufman’s the kind of director who – I’m sure – has meaning behind these prolonged scenes. It was as if I could faintly hear Lloyd explaining how Chrissy and Lauren are sharing intimacy as they discover themselves more. Look at it as Troma’s Nuclear Green is the Warmest Colour.
But, when these sensual scenes go on for too long, the meaning has less impact. We can see the floods of nudity and sex are there to be, well, just that.
Suddenly, the remake angle is picked back up as the movie’s final third approaches. And because this is the first volume in a needlessly complex two-part movie event, a lot of what the film pitches lands with an anticlimactic clunk. I would’ve much rather seen a cut with more discipline towards the expendable sexual content and the boundless supply of toilet humour.
When I say that the first third has an immaculately enjoyable rush, I really mean it. The wild portion contains everything I love about these wacky movies from a loyal team of favourable devotees. If Kaufman and company could’ve kept up those benign spirits, Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1 could’ve easily been one of Troma’s best and an impressive comeback for the lo-fi studio. Instead, it’s passable with lively side-splitters peppered here and there.
I’m hoping that by going “back to the well”, Kaufman can also remember how fun movies can be when smug innuendoes and tastelessness don’t take the spotlight away from a film’s main components – an unhinged story with silly sincerity. Here’s hoping Volume 2 fares better.