Hailed as and quite obviously Troma's highest-budgeted feature, (possibly even to this day) Troma's War is one weird, misguided exploitation movie. Well, it's not that misguided; released in 1988, the movie's a cheeky denouncement of Reagan-era warmongering. It looks pretty relevant today, too (with the added strange twist that it also eerily resembles ABC's series Lost) - but considering the US has been at war with somebody or other since 1941, this is not a difficult connection to make. What is difficult to understand is the tone, delivery and reasoning behind Troma's War. Obviously Troma isn't known for making serious art, but this half-hearted attempt at legitimacy is constantly hampered by its 'Tromatic' elements. It's weird, confusing fun, but probably only for serious - and seriously forgiving - Troma aficionados.
A jokey voiceover during otherwise featureless credits sets us up; a plane with a wide variety of passengers is about to crash on a tropical beach. The morning aftermath finds dazed survivors staggering about the carnage. Wandering into the jungle, our heroes stumble into a bizarre conspiracy about to be executed by a paramilitary organization and dozens of brainwashed slaves. Whether due to altruism or dithering bloodlust, our heroes mount an attack resulting in a body count in the low hundreds. Gore, violence, gratuitous nudity and sad juvenile humor are all Troma traits, the things we love, so why in this case do they result in such an odd, less-than-satisfying entertainment?
You can probably chalk it up to too much ambition, and lack of dispassionate oversight. For starters, the scale is all wrong. Hundreds of mercenaries and thousands of rounds of ordnance do not a Troma movie make. Don't get me wrong, I love watching bodies drop like flies, and you have to give the Troma Team credit for coming up with an enviable collection of guns. But as shots are recycled, flipped, recycled again, and shown from many angles, such grand scale becomes a joke. At least you can see that they got plenty of coverage in the can, what with plenty of multiple angles of the same shots. And then there are those elements Troma impresario Lloyd Kaufman felt had to be included in the movie, things that make Troma films the mad, ridiculous and cheap magic that they are - things that totally fly counter to a movie like this that keeps trying to take itself seriously. Geriatric ladies in hot-pants doing kung-fu with machine guns, a literally pig-nosed general who snorts and stutters like Porky Pig, an evil, bizarre, conjoined set of twins, a goofy AIDS-rape sequence, and on and on.
Yes, Troma tastelessness is on full display here, but sparsely scattered throughout scenes of half-comedic bickering and tons of gun battles. Tons of them. Which would be all good if not for the fact that (satire or not) the bad guys can't shoot, while the good guys hardly miss. In fact, cadres of bad guys will stand motionless as one fat slob - with a pistol that holds about 75 bullets in a clip - mows them down from behind. Clearly it's all in good, liberal-reactionary fun; the AIDS jokes, the rapes, the blood and gore, (sadly, not quite enough blood and gore for the tastes of most Troma fans, in my opinion) but taken as a whole, nothing really gels. Troma's War spreads its pluses and minuses a bit thinly over 105 minutes, and its schizophrenic tone does it no favors. But still, it's got gratuitous nudity, offensive humor, and a body-count in the hundreds - I think we can all appreciate that.
This Tromasterpiece Collection release comes in a fullscreen 1.33:1 ratio. According to IMDB, this is the negative ratio, though the film, shot in 35mm, was intended to be shown at a ratio of 1.85:1. Composition issues arising from this are minor, however any intended epic scope is overshadowed by this change. Otherwise, the picture is decent, but not spectacular. It's pretty grainy, just a hair more than would be expected for film stock. Colors are naturalistic, with the lush greens of Long Island ... er ... the tropical island looking nicely moody when combined with brackish blood. Authoring is otherwise done well, with no compression or other problems becoming issues.
Unspecified Audio appears to be Digital Stereo. Either in mastering or in the original mix, things are a bit funky; music and effects audio is quite loud in comparison to dialog, and the entire mix also pushes levels aggressively. This somehow resulted in a need to pump the audio on my set in order to catch goofy dialog while rendering explosions and gunshots that much more deafening.
Our single-disc edition of this Unrated Director's Cut seems to pile on the extras, though when observed it appears all of this stuff probably should have been edited into a documentary. I'd rather sit through a 60-minute featurette than be forced to punch menu buttons every three minutes. That said, Lloyd Kaufmann provides a convivial Commentary Track - it sounds like he's been doing them for years. Providing just enough information and momentum to keep things interesting, the track divides time between BTS information, studio philosophy and the history of Troma. At 8-minutes, the Kill-O-Meter condenses all deaths into one timesaving, hilarious blur. Veteran's Day: A Post-Tromatic Reunion finds Pericles Lewnes interviewing Joe Fleishaker for about 9 minutes. It's a little funny and a bit touching. Rick Washburn Shoots The Shit is a 3-minute look back at some of the firearms used during filming. A minute of London's War contains a reminiscence or two from the DP. Post-War Reflections; 5 minutes of goofing and such from actor Sean Bowen and others. War Talk; more of the same for 7 minutes. Tromaville Cafe; a vintage 5-minute fictional promo-piece with Fleishaker and a cute moderator. Three Minutes With Rolfe equals 7 minutes (there's that Troma humor again) with Production Assistant Rolfe Kanefsky - actually pretty funny stuff. Two Trailers for Troma's War, an odd, gratuitous Easter Egg and more Tromatic Extras - a bunch of other Troma trailers - finish off this bloodbath.
This single-disc, unrated director's cut of Troma's War is a real exploitation mixed bag. Kills come in mountains, but the gore and deaths are not as graphic as you might hope. Nudity and offbeat humor combine with an at times serious attitude and some truly tacky jokes that actually have a point, resulting in a confusing effort from Troma. If you turn off the old noggin, you'll have a sleazy-good-enough time, but you'll keep wondering why your head feels a bit funny. Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com