Saturday, August 16, 2014

Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV

(2000) Directed by Lloyd Kaufman; Written by: Trent Haaga, Patrick Cassidy, Gabriel Friedman and Lloyd Kaufman; Starring: David Mattey, Clyde Lewis, Heidi Sjursen, Paul Kyrmse and Joe Fleishaker; 
Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming.

Rating: ** ½

“…the fetus fight scene is still the best intra-uterine fistfight committed to film despite the fact that our fetuses didn’t have short, stubby fingers.”  – screenwriter Trent Haaga, on the decision to use eight-year-old actors instead of little people (from the book, Make Your Own Damn Movie! by Lloyd Kaufman, Adam Jahnke and Trent Haaga)

The following is my contribution to the Troma Super SummerSpectacular Blogathon, hosted by the one and only Vern of Vern’s Video Vortex.  After tackling The Toxic Avenger Part II a little while back, I thought it only appropriate to return with a review of the third and (so far) final sequel to Troma’s enduring series about “the first superhero from New Jersey.”  I apologize in advance if what follows (to paraphrase The Dark Knight) is the Troma review we deserve, but not the Troma review we need right now.

Nowhere is the term “critic proof” more applicable than with the output of Troma Entertainment and its brand of low budget filmmaking.  Over the past four decades, Troma films garnered legions of fans with their signature recipe of bad acting, sophomoric jokes, bodily excretions, gratuitous nudity, misogyny and copious gore.   Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV* was obviously created with this specific audience in mind, conditioned to expect these elements.

* According to Lloyd Kaufman, he would have preferred the title, A Tale of Two Toxies.

The film starts out on a dubious note, at once apologizing for the previous two sequels and proclaiming to be the real sequel.  This time around, the title character is played by David Mattey, who also appears in a dual role as Toxie’s sociopathic doppelganger, the Noxious Offender (aka: “Noxie”).  In a move displaying Troma’s usual penchant for subtlety, he’s joined by morbidly obese sidekick Lardass (Joe Fleishaker, doing double duty as out of work physicist Chester). Heidi Sjursen plays Toxie’s blind, pregnant wife Sara, and Noxie’s deaf girlfriend Claire.  Another recurring Troma character, Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD (Paul Kyrmse, also appearing as Evil Kabukiman), rounds out the list of dramatis personae.  

When a gang of adults dressed as infants terrorize a classroom of defenseless special education students, Toxie springs to the rescue.  Unfortunately for all parties, a bomb explodes, opening a portal to a parallel universe.  As a result, he switches places with his malevolent counterpart.  Instead of fighting evil, The Noxious Offender is evil.  Once he realizes what has happened, it’s up to Toxie to return to the correct universe, and right Noxie’s wrongs.  Director/co-writer Lloyd Kaufman leaves no stone unturned to ensure there’s something to offend everyone.  This fourth installment of the Toxic Avenger saga relies predominantly on middle school-level humor, taking potshots at feeble targets (such as the mentally challenged) along the way.  Depending on your tolerance for lowest common denominator humor, this film could seem like manna from the gods or an endurance test.  There are a few inspired moments scattered throughout, however, including a fight between Toxie and Noxie’s fetuses in Sara’s womb.

A recent re-watch of John Waters’ seminal 1972 schlockfest Pink Flamingos reminded me that Lloyd Kaufman and Troma didn’t pioneer the niche of bad taste cinema.  They’re simply carrying the baton that Waters passed along.  But something seems lost in translation, three decades later.  While Pink Flamingos was spontaneous and groundbreaking a few decades ago, Citizen Toxie appears calculated and self-conscious in a modern context.  One was an example of true guerrilla filmmaking that blindsided unsuspecting audiences, while the latter movie is a branded product designed to cater to a specific demographic.  Who am I to say Troma is wrong?   They have a winning formula.  You’ll never convince Troma’s detractors there’s anything good in these movies.  Conversely, you’ll never convince the Troma fans they’re wasting their time. 


  1. Freaking awesome review. Yeah I do agree with the term critic proof when talking about Talking about Troma. Interesting comparing Troma with John Waters earlier flicks concerning bad taste. I still think the characters in Thanks for participating

    1. Thanks Vern! Yeah, Troma can be a mixed bag for the uninitiated, but I kind of admire that they're doing what they're doing.

    2. I've always found it easier to admire the philosophy behind Troma movies than the movies themselves. Lloyd Kaufman is a pragmatic, demented genius - the last of the old school movie business hucksters.

    3. Absolutely. Something I cut out of my review (but probably should have included), was that I came to the realization I liked the idea of Troma films more than the films themselves. Yes, they're true independents, as Kaufman frequently states, but there's no reason they couldn't try to aim a little higher, instead of pandering to the lowest common denominator.

  2. I know what you mean about this film seeming calculated. It's the same thing that's going on now with the Sharknado type films on the Sci-Fi channel. Bad movies are much better when you can feel that the filmmaker at least tried to do something good but is just hampered by budget and/or "outsider artist" sensibilities, rather than being bad on purpose. Anyway, great write-up!

    1. Thanks, Erin. Good point regarding Sharknado and its ilk. I'll take an Ed Wood movie any day over anything from The Asylum.