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Chad is delivering a pizza to Gangrene's house, which is staffed by tomato commandos - "these are not tomato people, they are gardeners and carpenters" - and Tara, and it's clear from the beginning that Chad is smitten. When he asks Tara what she does in the Professor's house, she tells him she can cook 815 international dishes, perform 635 sexual acts and use all popular household appliances. Chad is rather innocent and the seemingly worldly-wise Tara scares him off.
But Tara's loyalty to Gangrene is broken when he discards a defective tomato because it's fluffy and has feet. Tara rescues her tomato brother and they run away. She goes to the only person she knows outside her home - Chad, who is concocting pizza toppings at the parlour. And he does what all the best heroes do - he rescues her and takes her home.
Next morning, Chad thinks he's been dreaming until Matt points out they have a beautiful woman in their shower. In no time, she's busy cooking breakfast and taking care of FT in secret. Meanwhile, Gangrene is putting together the final touches of his plot to take over the world by alerting his former co-conspirator, Jim Richardson (Rick Rockwell), incarcerated in the Oliver North Federal Prison for his part in the original Tomato Wars.
Just when it looks like Chad and Tara are settling into the romance of the century, the production runs out of money and filming has to stop. In the ensuing argument about what they are going to do next, Matt/George suggests they try product placement. Up to this point, products have been generic with almost everything seen in the background in plain blue and white packaging. But the product placement idea is a huge success and every product from the drinks offered in the pizza parlour to the candy bars behind the counter to the types of vehicle they drive is instantly recognisable or brought to the audience's attention. One scene is conducted from behind a Kellogg's Corn Flakes box and the ubiquitous car chase is held up while Chad and Matt run through the features of their quad runners and their availability.
When Chad becomes aware that he and Tara are being followed he backtracks Igor, who drives a garbage truck designed to look like a TV outside broadcast van, and, while spying on him, watches Professor Gangrene create tomato people. When he pours out the horror story to Matt and goes to tell Tara he finds her eating fertiliser sticks and realises he awful truth - the girl of his dreams is a vegetable. Well, a fruit actually but let's not be pedantic. Tara flees with FT only to be snatched by Igor although FT escapes. When he has calmed down, Chad wants to protect Tara and enlists Matt's help to try to find her. He knows that music might have changed her back into a tomato and, when they find a huge supply of smuggled tomatoes in a room at their local store and Matt realises how desperate his friend is when he frantically tries to find Tara amongst them. Then the tomato smuggler arrives with FT and another tomato. Convinced it's Tara, Chad snatches them both and heads for home where he plays music to try to get Tara to change back. The TV is on in the background showing a Frankenstein movie where the mad scientist keeps plugging away about how he works in his secret laboratory until Chad finally twigs that that will be how he can change Tara back.
Once again, he needs Matt's help. When he tries to persuade him to abandon his latest conquest Matt refuses until Chad reminds him that he saved his life. "Once" says Matt only for Chad to say it was two times. Reluctantly, Matt admits it was and goes with him. Once the director has told them that they now have enough money to finish the movie they can get on with the plot without plugging the products and the action is fast and furious to the end.
Having found the secret laboratory, their efforts to recreate Tara fail although they do manage to produce Carmen Miranda, the Pope, a rock star and Sonny Crockett from Miami Vice before Matt decides they should stick with the sexy blonde they then make. But Gangrene and Igor have been alerted to their presence and they are captured and locked up in the dungeon. After Gangrene has shown them how to turn the tomato people back into vegetables by playing Beethoven's Fifth and crushing the "Tara" tomato in front of Chad who is heartbroken.
Matt and Chad realise they are not alone in the cellar and fear Gangrene has created other monster vegetables but it's Tara - safe and sound. All's set for a great reunion love scene until Matt breaks into both the action and the music to remind them that, instead of just being two of them stuck in the cellar, all that's happened is there is now three of them stuck there. FT has overheard their capture and is enlisted to take a message to Wilbur - they have no paper and have to resort to using a page out of George's script, which he has in his pocket.
Wilbur reacts badly to the arrival of a tomato in his pizza parlour - even a fluffy one with feet - but eventually deigns to read the note. Then he calls on his two comrades from the Great Tomato Wars to help him rescue the boys. Removing the costume he wore in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes from its display case, they set off - Wilbur in his flight suit with the parachute trailing behind him accompanied by the Lone Ranger and a frogman . . .
Gangrene has decided to turn Chad and Matt into tomatoes and programmes his machine to trigger the mechanism in 10 minutes. Then he takes Tara with him to rescue Jim Richardson and launch their tomato army on an unsuspecting world. As the bungling trio waste time, the clock - an American football match timer - counts down. Unable to decide on what diversion to create, FT does it for them and they start to search the house. In desperation, Matt calls a time out and the clock stops with seconds to spare giving Wilbur time to untangle himself from his parachute (again) and hit the stop button. The Good Guys beat the Forces of Evil.
While Matt wants to create tomato girls, Chad is determined to rescue Tara and they give chase to the prison. There, Gangrene has created a number of tomato-commandos and a shoot out takes place with the tomatoes ketchuped. But, when they finally catch up with Gangrene, he's put Tara into the gas chamber and is threatening to kill her.
It's a stalemate. Then the phone rings - it's Bob Downs from the "Guess the Mystery Word" competition, insisting that they have a try to win the money. Gangrene furiously explains that he doesn't want to but, in the process, gives the mystery word - "the" - and the winner's celebration begins. They are inundated with balloons, streamers and confetti. Chad remarks to the audience, "you'll notice how everything we set up in the first reel pays off in the last. Pretty swift, eh?" Matt - who has tossed a pizza base into the air while he answers the phone in his very first scene - says "not everything" only to have the pizza base land on his face. Chad looks smug - "everything". In the mêlée, Gangrene hits the gas chamber switch and Igor drops the grenade he has been threatening them with. FT heroically dives onto the grenade before it explodes. Tara disappears as she collapses in the gas chamber. When Matt recovers from the concussion of the grenade and switches off the gas they open the door to find that Tara is fine. Gangrene has one last attempt at destroying Chad and Tara's happiness by playing Beethoven's Fifth but she doesn't change. The gas has made her a real woman. Even FT survives intact.
Once again, Wilbur and his comrades receive a heroes' welcome for saving the world from the killer tomatoes. FT is also hailed as a hero and the merchandising continues with FT dolls (available in the foyer of this theatre). Chad and Tara sneak away together while Matt opts to destroy Gangrene's lab. But he cannot resist creating a bevy of beautiful women first and is last seen frolicking on the beach with them.
As the closing credits roll they grind to a halt while the director's grandmother berates the audience for daring to sneak off before they've read them. Even as they finish, Bob Downs and his cohort Sid are discussing the next night's movie when they are attacked by killer carrots and wiped out.
It's hard to know exactly where John DeBello's writing ends and the adlibbing starts in this movie. Anthony said that he and George Clooney had an absolute blast making it and were allowed a lot of leeway with their lines. The result is fast-paced and funny, creating a feel good movie. Chad is a typical boy next door, very sweet and innocent and completely besotted with the older Tara. He clearly doesn't see himself as hero material and the transformation as the story progresses is shown as much in the physical aspects as the verbal ones. Chad keeps failing to leap cleanly out of his little sports car, catching his feet and falling flat on his face at every attempt. But, by the end, Chad can jump into it without a moment's thought. He overcomes his shyness to take command and only falters when he believes Tara has been killed. While Matt is fooling around watching Full Contact America's Cup Round 296 on TV or organising Win a Night With Rob Lowe (second prize, a night with Matt Stevens) contests, Chad is taking his uncle's pizza business seriously and then working out what is going on with Gangrene. It's Chad who notices that Igor is following Tara and it's Chad who discovers that Gangrene is using toxic waste. He also finds out that he is creating tomato people and how the process works. When Chad and Matt go to use the machine to turn Tara back into a person, Chad sets out the plan and takes the lead. By then, he can bound effortlessly over the veranda rail while Matt struggles over it and ends up in an ungainly heap; Chad breaks into the house while Matt gets trapped by the window. And - unlike Gangrene - Chad even has a never-ending supply of nickels for the jukebox, which plays the music to generate the tomato people. And, of course, he gets the girl, realising that he loves her even if she is always going to be a tomato. That she becomes fully human is a bonus. By the end, he and Tara are equals - although, it has to be said, she probably eats more toast!
Knowing how his career progressed and how much work Anthony Starke puts into creating his roles is an advantage when you look back at Return of the Killer Tomatoes. Even though he was in his early 20s when he made this, his billing is justified. While the vastly more experienced John Astin is excellent as the lunatic Professor Gangrene, playing the part in the style he has made his own (and in two further sequels), Anthony carries the movie along. Chad Finletter is a three-dimensional character with the hopes and fears everybody has as well as the courage and conviction to fight for what is right. He overcomes his prejudices and effectively grows up during the movie.
Of all the roles Anthony has played over the years, Chad is a particular favourite of mine. He is a real sweetheart of a character - not perfect but constantly evolving as he deals with events around him. When he drives off into the sunset with the girl he loves it's hard to know whether to cheer or wipe a tear away.
If you've never seen Return of the Killer Tomatoes I can recommend it. Admittedly, you need the right sort of sense of humour but, with that, it will make you laugh out loud. It even makes you laugh out loud when you've seen it dozens of times before. And it's a treasure trove of little gags - from the mock up TV programmes they watch to the "Kidnap Victim on Board" yellow diamond on Igor's truck; from Rick Rockwell's agonised protest that he is not going to be mocked like this any longer when he was the star of the original and now has only two lousy lines to the fact it was recorded in StupendoSound. It obviously wasn't just Anthony and George who had great fun filming it - it shows throughout that they all did. So, if you've never seen it, buy it or rent it and settle down one evening with some beer or a nice bottle of red wine and watch 94 minutes of Anthony's undiluted exuberance as Chad Finletter saving the world and getting the girl. If you're like me, about 13 years down the line (when someone points it out to you) you'll notice that George Clooney is also in this movie!
Fan Club Update
We made contact with Anthony Starke's new agent! The fan club has sent Mark Scroggs a letter of introduction, outlining the intentions of this club.
News from the Agency
Nothing to report at present, but at least we know that Mr. Starke has an agent. His agent is very personable and pleasant. Mr. Scroggs has asserted that he will contact us when Mr. Starke has new projects coming up.
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