I like a lot of bad movies, as I’ve discussed in the past few weeks (and will continue to discuss until Mostie and Brian send the Cease and Desist). And, rightly or wrongly, I’ll defend each and every one of them. Because I agree with Sheryl Crow (but not about the quality of her music): if it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad. But, you gotta know why you like it, and you gotta be willing to stick up for it.
However, once in a while, a film comes along that makes me happy and yet is so bad, so misguided, so entirely beyond defense, that even I’m forced to squirrel it away at the bottom of my DVD shelf and hope nobody notices.
Thus is the case with the abysmal, 1996 production of Tromeo and Juliet. Yes, it’s a film based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and yes, it’s made by legendarily bad film company Troma Entertainment. And, yes, that’s why the main character is named Tromeo.
Troma Entertainment is famous for its horrible films. Their priority is not quality or fun or exploitation. Their priority is completion. And then, profit. And, boy, do these guys profit. They’ve distributed movies like Blood Sucking Freaks, Cannibal: The Musical (the first feature by Matt Stone and Trey Parker) and Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator, and produced such video “classics” as The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High and Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD. They re-use footage from other movies, hire the worst actors in New York and live and die by the belief that you can overcome any script problems with bad puns, cheesy gore and fake boobs.
There’s a huge audience for these films, but honestly, I’ve never liked them. They were just too much cheese and not enough give-a-crap for my tastes. But, Tromeo and Juliet, man, that one gets me every time.
It loosely follows the story you were forced to read in high school: Tromeo Que (son of Monty Que – hear the rimshot) courts a whore named Rosy, until he meets Juliet Capulet at a party. Of course, their families hate each other. Juliet’s engaged to marry a suitor chosen by her parents, inexplicably named London, but still, Tromeo and Juliet fall in love, get married, Juliet’s cousin kills Tromeo’s friend, Tromeo kills Juliet’s cousin and he gets banished.
And, it’s smart enough to leave out the lame parts of the play, namely the last 30 pages. Juliet takes a potion to, rather than fake death, turn into a monster, and scares London off. Tromeo returns, kisses her and makes her pretty again, enraging her father who is a psychotic child molester. A bloody battle ensues.
And, let’s be honest, that sounds awesome.
And, on the surface, it is. The story is so egregious, you giggle when you should be horrified. The music kicks ass, with many songs written specifically for the film, and others by Sublime, Superchunk and The Wesley Willis Fiasco. And, there are inspired moments where Lemmy, from Motorhead, recites a doctored version of the play’s opening monologue, or Tromeo and Juliet goof around in Central Park and screw beneath the stone lions in front of the New York Public Library.
The onscreen high-point are the leads, Jane Jensen and Will Keenan. As Juliet, Jensen manages to remain precious while fondling a giant goo-covered penis monster, and Keenan, as Tromeo, smiles through the madness so genuinely that he manages to keep you from writing it all off as frivolous. They make a believable, charming couple. (Incidentally, Jensen also created an alt-pop album in the late 90’s called Comic Book Whore that I listened to constantly; and Will Keenan insulted my girlfriend on his website.)
And, on a totally random note, this is the only movie I’ve ever heard of where the R-rated version is 6 minutes longer than its Unrated version!
But, after a while, it’s all cheap and soulless.
Most of it is exploitation masquerading as satire. The jokes are offensive without the benefit of being funny and the visual style is flat to the point of cardboard. Lloyd Kaufman, the director and producer, just wants to get his characters in the frame, paying little attention to whether or not they’re well-lit, well-dressed, or even in focus. And, while he would claim that his film “takes no prisoners,” its comedy is too cheap and jabs too random to be enjoyed.
The cast is a hodgepodge of hipsters and Troma regulars, and most of them aren’t able to rise above the ugliness of the film’s spirit. They read the lines with earnestness and enthusiasm, but the script does them no favors and their best deliveries fall flat.
But, in the end, the real problem with Tromeo and Juliet is one of respect. The movie doesn’t have any. Not for its cast or crew or script or audience. It’s a random, mean little film that wants to have class and style while still being trashy and fun, but it gets lost somewhere between Juliet’s lesbian nurse and the over-acting priest telling two-cent molestation jokes.
Still, I’ve probably watched this movie more than any other DVD on my shelf. I know some scenes word for word, and have my bathroom breaks timed down to the second. I’ve followed the careers of the movie’s cast, purchased the soundtrack… I even pre-ordered the Blu-Ray!
And why do I keep coming back? I really have no idea. While that goes against all my rules of liking something inexplicably, I still do.
The only way I could get my wife to watch this movie was to win a bet. When I finally got her to sit down long enough for me to push play, she fell asleep twenty minutes in. And, you know what, I was so embarrassed by what was happening onscreen, I didn’t bother to wake her up.
I just smiled and giggled and shook my head all by myself.