Troma // 1988 // 105 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 4th, 2010
The movie that pretty much relegated Troma to the outskirts of the mainstream film industry finds rebirth as part of the studio's "Tromasterpiece Collection." Twelve years later, how does this once-revered trash classic hold up?
Not well, actually. Troma's War tells the "story" of a group of survivors from a horrible plane crash, stranded on a mysterious island. Unfortunately for them, the island is inhabited by a group of terrorists and communists and other assorted thugs who are prepping for a devastating attack on the United States.
The bad guys mistake the survivors for a crack squad of infiltration commandos (?) and the bullets begin flying soon afterward, leaving this ragtag gang of losers as the only obstacle between America and destruction.
I have vivid memories of the infamous tongue-ripping scene, thinking, "Whoa, this is like the most messed up thing I have ever seen!" Of course that was a long time ago (there was an excellent chance I was wearing British Knights at the time) and a lot has changed since Troma released its studio-killer. For one, they've made movies that were a whole lot more outrageous and shocking. And entertaining. Perhaps it's not fair to compare Troma's flicks now and then, but their latest original production, the deliriously amusing and trashed-out Poultrygeist is so much better than War. So much better.
Part of that gulf in Troma-quality can be attributed to the weird place that War occupied. The film came out with Lloyd Kaufman's studio still angling to make a dent in the mainstream, theatrical world. As such, the amount of unbridled lunacy they could weave in their releases was limited by both market forces and, most importantly, the MPAA. Anyone familiar with War's pedigree knows that the MPAA pretty much made them hack this thing apart to get it an R-rating, and the result was so incoherent that it imploded at the box office and forced Troma into the straight-to-DVD industry.
Now having seen the director's cut, I'm not really sure how much better the film would have done if released in its true form; Troma's War kind of sucks.
I can get behind the ridiculous amounts of violence -- and it is ridiculous, reaching desensitizing heights rarely seen -- but the dopey story, clumsy and antiquated political philosophizing, and the absence of genuine humor is too much for any number of detonating blood squibs and leaking facial boils to overcome.
There are plenty of Troma trademarks to be found, but none of them belong in the same league as the tomfoolery that has followed during the studio's independent days: gore (the tongue rip and the bullet wounds are the bloodiest bits), sleaze (some brief boob shots and the most unerotic jungle lovemaking session ever put to film) and tastelessness (actually, the AIDS/rape stuff is pretty off-putting). So there you go Troma, you're still offensive through the decades!
Now here's the Tromasterpiece edition, what I would assume is the definitive release of the film. This, too, underperforms. The full frame video transfer returns from the 1998 release, and much of the extras have all been recycled too: interviews with the cast and crew and a laughably dated commentary from Lloyd Kaufman who lauds the advent of the new and exciting DVD technology. New features include a reunion with Troma's 500-pound cameo actor Joe Fleishaker and Pericles Lewnes, the Kill-O-Meter violence montage and an interview with director Rolfe Kanesky.
Troma's farted out a lot worse, and War shouldn't be relegated to the bottom of the pile...but it's not masterpiece.
Dishonorably discharged, and that means several things when you're talking
about a Troma release.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated