I’ve got to admit, the movie I was most looking forward to at the Cannes Film Festival was the rebel Troma premiere of Return to Nuke ‘Em High: Volume 1. Something about seeing a Troma movie in the middle of the most prestigious film festival in the world really gave me a kick. Besides, I’m Franchise Fred! I have to know how the Nuke ‘Em High saga continues.
The Tromaville nuclear power plant is claiming to go organic, but of course they’re just repackaging their chemicals that either turn the nearby high schoolers into mutated Road Warrior characters, or just make them explode into piles of gore. The main students we follow are Chrissy (Asta Paredes), an environmental blogger who puts on a tough front at school, and Lauren (Catherine Corcoran), the new rich girl in school.
There’s something so joyous about totally on-the-nose slapstick satire. Yes, corporations are bad. Yes, they try to pass off harmful stuff as community serving products. And Lloyd Kaufman himself leads the charge of broad hammy gesticulating nonsense as the evil corporate exec. If he weren’t the director, the rest of the cast would probably mimic his performance anyway. I also can’t help laughing when they put fart noises on pretty girls.
Maybe those silly scenes are to disarm you for the really smart jokes they manage to sneak in there too. The line about the dot in .com is brilliant. A joke about foreshadowing takes the piss out of the very dramatic concept. We’ve heard the joke about the token black guy before but it’s cleverly addressed in the context of this film. I love when on screen text breaks the fourth wall. I think the name of Chrissy’s source is a cute riff on Woodward and Bernstein, considering the audience for this movie has probably never even heard of Watergate. There’s a “Yankee Doodle Dandy” joke that’s so literal it took me a few seconds to realize what just happened. Also, Lauren dances with a duck. I don’t know what that means, but I’m going to assume it’s a profound metaphor because I really love that I saw a rich girl dance with a duck.
The movie may play less like a story than a list of things you need to see. Every scene has something wild in it. There may be more breasts than ever in a Troma movie, which is I guess Troma getting more ambitious with its core values I guess.
Amidst all this nonsense, Paredes and Corcoran give really sincere performances. You really believe the relationship that forms between Chrissy and Lauren and it’s legitimately touching. They are also adorable doing the ridiculous Troma gags. Their broccoli scene is just downright surreal.
For a low budget movie, I have to give Troma props. There are a ton of extras in this high school. That adds tremendous production value. I see big movies with sparse backgrounds and that makes it look fake, like the kind of unpopulated world that only exists in movies. This looks like a fully populated high school. They’re still doing practical effects, but adding some CGI gags that look a whole lot faker, and yes, that green car jump is still in there. There’s a lot of ADR, like whole scenes of dialogue spoken off camera. I’m not sure if it was integral or even funny, but it’s there.
Now, Troma has always taken pride in confronting taboo social issues. This goes back to an AIDS rape in Troma’s War. I never believed these references were really confronting the issues. Poor taste may have its place, but shock value is less noble. At this point, I think you just have to roll your eyes and go, “That’s our Troma.” It’s certainly too expected to be offensive. So they reference school shootings, Aurora, Obamacare and there’s a character named Father Sandusky. It’s trying a bit too hard to be controversial, but that’s our Troma. Yet they do pay respect to our troops.
The pace does drag a bit in the middle. They can’t keep up all this craziness forever, or maybe you just become numb to it after 40 minutes. I still go back to the relationship between Chrissy and Lauren. It’s really a triumph that that is so effective in a movie like this.
It’s too bad that it just stops with no real climax or resolution, but they did give me fair warning by calling it Volume 1. At least the final shot is Lloyd Kaufman’s homage to Brian De Palma’s Carrie, so there’s a note on which to leave us hanging.
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