After the one-two punch of THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II and THE TOXIC AVENGER PART III: THE LAST TEMPTATION OF TOXIE in 1989, the live action Toxic Avenger sat out the entire 1990s. He missed grunge, the rise and fall of Death Row Records, Hypercolor shirts, everything. During that time Lloyd Kaufman oversaw The Toxic Crusaders cartoon, went to court with New Line Cinema, and directed three non-Toxic movies: SGT. KABUKIMAN N.Y.P.D. (1990), TROMEO AND JULIET (1996) and TERROR FIRMER (1998).
By now Troma had become some sort of institution, with a younger generation working for them for little or no pay because they grew up on the movies. It was also a harder time to create humor more tasteless than what was popular. Kids had seen Tom Green pretend to hump a dead moose on cable, the whole world had been charmed by Cameron Diaz with semen in her hair, and Jackass started airing a month before CITIZEN TOXIE came out. In 1996 Troma had given a limited release to a 1993 indie called ALFRED PACKER: THE MUSICAL (retitled CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL) by young filmmakers Trey Parker & Matt Stone. The following year, Parker & Stone’s South Park started on Comedy Central and became a pop culture phenomenon. It was during South Park season 4, while the two Troma-boys-made-big were being canonized as the edgy provocateurs and envelope-pushing satirists of their era, that the fourth TOXIC AVENGER movie finally hit the screen.
CITIZEN TOXIE: THE TOXIC AVENGER IV (2000), like Part III, opens with trailer style narration explaining the backstory of The Toxic Avenger. But this time they actually got Stan Lee to do it! That’s obviously an attempt to align “the first super hero from New Jersey” with Spider-Man, etc., but you may be surprised to know that Kaufman and Lee go way back. In his book Kaufman mentions “the script I wrote with Stan Lee in 1971, NIGHT OF THE WITCH, where the witch only kills bad people” as a precursor to THE TOXIC AVENGER.
The big twist of the intro is that after describing the origin story Lee says, “Then, two rotten sequels were made. Sorry about that. THIS is the REAL sequel.”
Yes, despite the numerical title this is a David Gordon Green’s HALLOWEEN approach where they ditched the events and changes of all previous sequels and only acknowledge the first one. He’s once again Melvin Ferd instead of Melvin Junko. She’s Sarah instead of Claire, and she’s still blind – no surgery. He’s got a comically deep voice again. Apocalypse Inc. and sumo wrestling are not mentioned.
On the other hand, he is married, and has the nickname Toxie, and refers to Tromatons, all things introduced in– oh well, let’s not think about that stuff.
I disagree with Stan – Part II and even Part III are hardly “rotten,” at least not by Troma standards. And I’m very sorry to say that rotten doesn’t come close to describing how fucking ghastly part IV is, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not that it’s misjudged, necessarily. It’s clearly intentional; they’re trying to violate all boundaries of decency, humanity, aesthetics, and entertainment. But if somebody shits in your face on purpose you’re not obligated to say “Great aim!” To each their own, but personally I found CITIZEN TOXIE to be a vile, torturous slog that should make the entire concept of shock value humor slink home in embarrassment if it somehow survives this grueling 109 minute trudge through every type of puerile trolling Kaufman and co-writers Trent Haaga (CHEAP THRILLS), Patrick Cassidy (TERROR FIRMER) & Gabriel Friedman (POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD) plus additional material writers Sean Collins & Matt Levin managed to barf out at the time.
It opens with Mexican jokes – white people wearing sombreros for “Take a Mexican to Lunch Day.” But there’s no time to discern whether they’re trying to provoke you or sincerely satirize racism before you realize this classroom we’re entering is full of kids played by adults doing what can only be called r-word impressions. I won’t use the word (as the movie does dozens of times) but I sort of have to refer to it because there’s no way for sensitive language to convey how these characters are portrayed.
Like the Mexican restaurant in part I or the video store in part III this special ed school is the site of an attack by Tromaville’s unique brand of face paint wearing, machine gun toting, scenery chewing street thugs. But to make it less fun and more disgusting this time the thugs are called “The Diaper Mafia” and they’re adults dressed as babies and speaking in baby voices. Also they have topless tattooed ladies with them who rub their boobs in the students’ faces and stuff.
The particular gross feeling I got from this classroom scene reminded me of the adults playing children in FORBIDDEN ZONE, and the leader of the Diaper Mafia even kinda looks like an Elfman (he’s actually co-writer/assistant director Trent Haaga). The difference is that FORBIDDEN ZONE made every frame of its cardboard-and-poster-paint sets and thrift store costuming into something stylish and beautiful, while every single thing in this movie just looks shitty and repulsive – the sloppy hand drawn set decorations, the lighting, the film stock, the framing, everything.
It’s a good 10 minutes before the Toxic Avenger (now portrayed by David Mattey [later in Jesse V. Johnson’s CHARLIE VALENTINE] and voiced by Clyde Lewis [NIGHTFALL]) shows up. This might also be the movie’s first semi-amusing idea, as he arrives somehow disguised as the famous bikini model the terrorists demanded (Carla Pivonski, TERROR FIRMER) and then transforms into Toxie (no, he does not say “Honey Flash!” to do it). He looks slimmer than previous Toxies and the shiny, plasticky makeup looks like something they’d use for a convention appearance instead of actual movie makeup, but oh well. My favorite way he attacks a terrorist is sharpening the guy’s finger in a pencil sharpener and then stabbing him with said finger. My least favorite is smooshing a poopy diaper in a guy’s face. It was kinda funny though when he dropped a guy on his head and then the head went all the way through his body and tore out of his diaper.
Toxie now has an official sidekick insensitively named Lardass and portrayed by Joe Fleishaker (the Troma regular who weighed about 500 pounds and played one of the Apocalypse Inc. executives in the “rotten” Toxie sequels). Lardass almost saves the day by eating a bomb that’s about to go off, except it makes him fart just as a terrorist and a student who had been fucking the whole time light up cigarettes, so there’s an explosion anyway. I would have to say that the post-coital-cigarette-fart-explosion is this film’s most successful fusion of tasteless and funny. So congratulations to everyone involved.
And the premise of the movie is kinda cute. The fart explosion is so powerful it causes a dimensional rift, so Toxie ends up in an alternate reality where everyone is different and Tromaville is called Amortville. His best friend Kabukiman (Paul Kyrmse, who played that character in various Troma materials but not the feature length movie) is a criminal in this reality rather than a sergeant in the NYPD. (Note: the so-called good version of him in Toxie’s reality is implied to rape somebody off screen.)
Meanwhile, the evil version of Toxie called Noxie (short for “the Noxious Offender”), who has a little hair on top and wears a black shirt with a gold N necklace, is in Tromaville, enjoying the spoils of being mistaken for a beloved hero. (So it’s kind of like FACE/OFF I guess.) The CITIZEN TOXIE title comes from a sequence done in black and white newsreel style where Noxie is living it up in a mansion called Tromadu. Not very funny at all, but worth it for the punchline where instead of “Rosebud” he says “nose blood.”
Although Toxie’s wife goes back to being named Sarah like in part I (not Claire like in parts II and III or Yvonne like in the cartoon), it’s yet another actress, a newcomer named Heidi Sjursen. She does a decent facsimile of the original Sarah’s sweet cluelessness (plus some parts where she yells at Toxie), but I definitely missed Phoebe Legere’s eccentric accordion playing Claire. (They do pay tribute to Claire by using the name for Sarah’s double in Amortville. She can see but is deaf and has bad teeth.)
If by some technicality CITIZEN TOXIE is not the most ableist movie ever made, it’s not for lack of trying. They have the usual blind jokes with Sarah and now deaf jokes with Claire, plus all of the awful special ed stuff throughout the movie, and a scene where James Gunn (writer of TROMEO AND JULIET) plays astrophysicist “Dr. Flem Hocking,” doing a voice. And I haven’t even mentioned that two of the special ed students, the rebellious Tito (Michael Budinger) and childlike (if that’s something you can call a child character played by an adult) Sweetie Honey (Lisa Terezakis, two episodes of Strangers With Candy) end up being main characters in the movie.
Having been a life long Toxie fan I obviously saw CITIZEN TOXIE when it came out 20+ years ago. But I somehow forgot about one of my most hated aspects: Tito. It’s not just that it’s a guy doing an r-word voice and r-word movements and playing off of the idea of wouldn’t it be funny if an r-word thought he was cool and wore a leather jacket even though he’s an r-word. That would be more than enough, but what makes it even worse is that the guy is transparently just imitating a South Park voice for his entire performance!
What kind of a comedy has a main character who’s just doing the same shitty imitation of a popular cartoon that all your dumbest friends do, and tries to pass it off as a character? I don’t know if Kaufman didn’t notice it or if he thought it was okay because of his connection to Parker & Stone, but it’s like if a new comedy came out where one of the main characters is just some dude doing a shitty Borat or Austin Powers impression. Somebody should’ve stopped this guy. What the fuck?
I hate hearing the fucking voice, but since I’m definitely retired from ever watching this movie again I’m kind of glad it’s there as a marker of where we were at as a culture in 2000 and why this movie is like this. I don’t deny that South Park was original and could be very funny and clever, but I always thought their satire leaned toward mocking people for giving a shit and pretended that nihilistic apathy is the most reasonable answer to any situation. I got this feeling of “you right wingers who are out there being fascist, you’re dumb, and you hippies who are mad about the fascism, you’re just as bad for some reason, the only sane people are the ones here in the middle with me, not doing anything about any of it.” And I hated how long that attitude passed for smart and rebellious.
In the Ain’t It Cool days I would occasionally try to articulate that thought, and the response was not what you would call understanding. By now many others have made the argument much better than I ever could. CITIZEN TOXIE is not South Park’s fault, but it’s a perfect time capsule of what was going on. I think it’s fair to call Troma somewhat countercultural, outsider artists, with kind of a punk rock type reputation. And here in the year 2000 – on the precipice of George W. Bush, 9-11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the USA-Patriot Act, Abu Ghraib, etc. – their big concern was rebelling against the uptight people who don’t want them making fun of the r-words for being so r-word all the time, and really if you think about it they’re not making fun of them, in a way they’re celebrating them, I mean they make fun of non-r-words also. Equal opportunity offenders. And besides why does everything always gotta be so politically correct, there’s a scene where they make fun of anti-abortion protesters so it’s both sides, etc.
In the movie there’s a news report where the anchors (played by the comedians the Sklar brothers) blame the Diaper Mafia attack on heavy metal, rap, video games and violent movies. It’s the same point made later in Vin Diesel’s xXx, but not given the same credit by the cultural elites since it rejects the crutch of being mildly entertaining.
The one thing I did remember from that first viewing, that I found so offensive it made me forget all that other stuff, is the comical gore scene where racist rednecks tie a Black man named Pompey (Barry Brisco, “Trombone Player [uncredited],” DREAMGIRLS) to the back of their truck and drag him until his body falls apart. I knew this was inspired by a real life hate crime, and I still can’t fathom what would possess somebody to think ha ha, won’t it be mischievous fun to joke about that unspeakably barbaric murder those white supremacists did recently? I get that you’re trying to break all the taboos, I just don’t get what you’re trying to achieve by it. If it was somehow possible to make a movie that finds out traumatic incidents or losses suffered by viewers and taunts them about it, would you do that? Is it just a contest to see who can be the shittiest, most heartless fucking asshole on the block?
I don’t really understand the thinking. However, I do at least see the absurdity of a severed head still being alive, saying “Thanks again for saving my life” and then being able to go purchase a new body. So this absolutely vile subplot is arguably more defensible than the r-word stuff that dominates the movie.
It’s important to give credit where credit is due, so I will say that it’s cool that the title logo explodes at the beginning, that the art of Toxie on the movie poster is pretty good, and that it’s funny when they use MORTAL KOMBAT or BLADE style techno in a couple of the fight scenes. Peppered throughout is the occasional silly shit that you hope for in this series. Noxie rips off a cop’s arms and uses them as weapons and the cop yells “Stay back everybody. He’s armed!” Part I street thug Cigar Face has become a cop (or at least the actor Dan Snow has) and he has a Hitler mustache and seems to be an actual Nazi. And I can sort of see the nasty appeal (or whatever you want to call it) of some of the grossout stuff, like Toxie puking green slime when he cums or Noxie having a giant penis with a puppet face on the end of it. There is some good gore and a scene where two children portray fetal Toxie Jr. and Noxie Jr. having a mop fight inside their mother. Many of these little bits are kinda funny or cool, but for me they’re not nearly strong enough to overcome the interminable parade of juvenile shit-throwing that precedes and follows them.
I’ve really enjoyed writing this review series, so I’m glad I didn’t remember much about part IV here. It might’ve scared me off. This is easily the worst movie I’ve ever watched a second time, though in full disclosure I must have glazed over at some point, because I didn’t notice it was Corey Feldman playing the gynecologist, or Eli Roth as “Frightened Tromaville Citizen,” or Hugh Hefner as the President of the United States, and I couldn’t bring myself to put the blu-ray back in to try to spot them. This is why many filmmakers would prefer you watch their movies with the full theatrical experience, so you will be able to soak it all in and not be distracted. It did play theaters (in a limited, event screening type format that suited it) and I believe was pretty well received – incredibly, it has a 67% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (remember, Part II has a 0%!). I guess you had to hear the head going through the poopy diaper in Dolby Digital to really get it.
CITIZEN TOXIE was obviously a transgressive movie at the time, and it was too much for me then, but also every single thing about it plays worse for today’s sensibilities. Often when movies like that are discussed it’s in the context of “oh man, they could never make a movie like this today, they would be cancelled.” So I can’t believe I’m saying this but let’s talk about “cancel culture” for a bit. I’ve always been and will continue to be suspicious of people who bring it up all the time, especially my fellow white men. They claim to be against sex creeps and bigotry just as much as you, yet the amount of passion they dedicate to opposing their ills is approximately one seven thousandth of a percent of what they dedicate to the theoretical possibility of being falsely accused of them. “Look, somebody could potentially get it wrong, therefore we must shut down anyone trying to do anything. Tough luck, toots.” That’s how it comes across to me.
But we do have a funny case here of someone who was in this movie who went on to great success and then was disingenuously (semi) cancelled, and things turned out better for everyone. I do not think this is a representative case or anything that will ever be repeated, but I do think there’s something for us to learn from it.
James Gunn, the now very successful director of the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY series, famously got his start at Troma. He wrote and produced TROMEO AND JULIET (1996), he created and directed The Tromaville Cafe (1997) (a BBC show that presented Troma films), he co-wrote the frequently-cited-in-this-review-series book All I Need To Know About FILMMAKING I Learned From THE TOXIC AVENGER. He is not responsible for CITIZEN TOXIE, but he does appear in it and, one would imagine, might’ve thought it was funny.
It was a few years later that he made it in Hollywood, writing SCOOBY-DOO (2002) and DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004), and became kind of an underdog studio horror director with SLITHER (2006). But by the time of his violent R-rated super hero comedy SUPER (2010) he still seemed like some douche who would play a parody of Stephen Hawking in CITIZEN TOXIE. His 2011 blog post “The 50 Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With: 2nd Annual Poll Results” was roundly criticized as misogynistic and homophobic, and later caused him to send an apology to GLAAD:
“A couple of years ago I wrote a blog that was meant to be satirical and funny. In rereading it over the past day I don’t think it’s funny… I’m an outspoken proponent for the rights of the gay and lesbian community, women and anyone who feels disenfranchised, and it kills me that some other outsider like myself, despite his or her gender or sexuality, might feel hurt or attacked by something I said. We’re all in the same camp, and I want to do my best to make this world a better place for all of us. I’m learning all the time. I promise to be more careful with my words in the future. And I will do my best to be funnier as well.”
Years after that, in 2018, a right wing troll and conspiracy grifter targeted Gunn for criticizing Lord Trump, found some of his tweets from 2008 that made gross jokes about child molestation (I’m surprised CITIZEN TOXIE never hit on that topic), and launched a bad faith campaign to cancel him over it.
Gunn apologized again: “It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it’s shocking and trying to get a reaction are over… I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don’t anymore. I don’t blame my past self for this, but I like myself more and feel like a more full human being and creator today.”
After Disney took the campaign at face value and fired him from THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3, which was about to start filming, Gunn wrote, “Regardless of how much time has passed, I understand and accept the business decisions taken today… I take full responsibility for the way I conducted myself then.”
But Warner Brothers saw an opening and hired Gunn to direct THE SUICIDE SQUAD. And while he was at it he made the spin-off HoBoMax series Peacemaker. And in the middle of that Disney realized they fucked up and hired him back, so now he’s doing GUARDIANS 3 after all. No matter how that turns out, THE SUICIDE SQUAD and Peacemaker are my favorite things he’s ever done, so I’m indebted to that fascist Pizzagate shithead for freeing up his schedule to do them.
Now, there is no part of me that relates to a grown man – or even a young man! – writing all that shit that people got mad at Gunn for. If a person I hung out with made those kind of jokes all the time they would quickly transform into a person I used to hang out with. And I understand the hesitance, even stubbornness, that people usually have about accepting celebrity public apology statements like those above.
But I’m grateful that in this case people did, because I think THE SUICIDE SQUAD and Peacemaker are both great works of popular entertainment and examples of how Troma-bred irreverence can evolve into something beautiful. Gunn hasn’t cut down on obscenity, dudes saying stupid things about fucking or flippant, graphic gore, but he employs them in a story that’s full of genuine love. The Suicide Squad are super villains guilty of what in our world would be unforgivable crimes, but in the cartoonish DC Comics world they’re a metaphor for all the misfits and fuck ups of the world making friends and seizing an opportunity to do something right for once. Peacemaker does similar while also finding the vulnerability and goodness beneath the overcompensating shell of a macho asshole raised by an abusive bigot he hates but can’t help seeking the approval of. These are stories that disregard literal realism but put a high premium on the authentically human, and I love stories like that.
What I’m trying to get at is that when I judge something like CITIZEN TOXIE to be actually toxic it doesn’t mean I’m passing judgment on or writing off the people involved (or who like it). I don’t like what they made at that time, but people change, people have different sides to them, people are complicated.
Many people who are criticized or pushed back against don’t know how to be gracious about it. They dig their heels in, they play victim, they pretend that freedom of speech means nobody has the freedom to speak in response to their speech, they go make movies with B*n Sh*piro. I don’t have time for those ones. And obviously different situations require different levels of accountability. But I hope in some of these cases where somebody makes or says something stupid that pisses us off, that I and others can have space in our hearts to accept those who genuinely have regrets and try to learn new things and become better people. Everybody fucks up at different things and I think there needs to be room for people to actually be sorry and for others (at their own discretion) to forgive them. Tromaville welcomes freaks, you know.
That said, if Toxie won’t apologize for this horrible fucking movie he can get fucked
March 9th, 2022 at 4:47 pm
When this opened in LA in early 2001 I covered the premiere. It was a major franchise sequel as far as I was concerned. I spent all night with the Troma gang as they got kicked out of 3 clubs for wearing Toxie and Kabukiman costumes. 1 club let them stay. Apparently Lloyd’s assistant supposedly cleared it with all 4 clubs but either the managers weren’t quite clear what it entailed, or more likely the whole stunt was designed to get them kicked out so that they could play the underdogs banished by mainstream Hollywood.
It was only showing at midnight at the Sunset 5. I haven’t seen it since then but I liked it at the time and can imagine reacting like Vern to a revisit. Perhaps this is when Troma crossed the line from transgressive to trolling though I might argue that was already Troma’s War.
Anyway it was a fun night and I think Lloyd and the gang appreciated a legit journalist having the interest in them.
Really appreciate your section on cancel culture? Vern. There’s always been people dropped from platforms before this buzzword and there’ve always been those who grow from it and those who don’t. It’s strange how people can feel so entitled to say whatever they want when that’s never been reality.