Set in the town of Tromaville, New Jersey — because the film was produced by Troma Entertainment, I guess — The Toxic Avenger is a film about a nerd getting his revenge on bullies while also showing us just how bad pollution is. Admittedly, from that description the movie sounds like an after-school special, but it’s actually a gory and profane B-movie that is most certainly not for children. I’m not sure if it’s for adults, either, but that’s neither here nor there.
The film’s lead is Melvin (Mark Torgl), who works as a janitor at the local health club, which is populated by jerks and jocks who dislike him. To be fair to them, he’s pretty terrible at his job. I wondered if he was supposed to have some sort of mental illness, but it’s never said that he does. He’s just a nerd. After a particularly cruel prank that had unforeseen consequences, Melvin finds himself jumping out a window and landing in a poorly placed drum of chemical waste. His skin disintegrates, his body bursts into flames, and before you know it, he transforms into a superhero.
I’m not quite sure how that works, either, just that it does. Melvin becomes the Toxic Avenger — although he’s only called that really late in the film — a 7-foot tall creature of extraordinary strength and endurance who can sense evil. I wish I was kidding. He’s going to spend the rest of the film taking out the trash of Tromaville, which includes drug dealers, the jerks at the health club, and a corrupt political office, because if the movies haven’t taught you that those in power are evil, well, they’re going to try at least one more time with The Toxic Avenger.
It’s a good thing that the film is about something, because that’s about all it has going for it. The fact that it can hold its head high and say “hey, at least we tried to tell the audience something” is more than a good number of films. It’s just a shame that, for the most part, the film around the messages isn’t particularly interesting, involving, or entertaining — low-budget cheese and all.
Look. I’m one of those people who can most certainly appreciate schlock, and especially schlock with a point behind it. But The Toxic Avenger is just sort of boring. By the time we get to the montage in which we see all of Melvin’s good deeds, the film had run out of steam and creativity. There are some good kills on display here, but they don’t last. We wind up with a pacifist display for an ending which is a letdown in comparison to what we saw earlier.
A subplot involves Melvin falling in love with a blind girl, Sara (Andree Maranda), because we need a love interest, I suppose. She’s the “only one” who can love him because of his appearance. She’s also the only woman with a speaking role who isn’t completely objectified by the camera and the events it films. This type of film kind of needs sexploitation, but making it a little more subtle might not have made it feel as wrong as it is here. I wouldn’t want to accuse the film of being misogynistic, but, well, maybe it is.
The Toxic Avenger is also very violent. One particular scene that occurs in a restaurant is quite gruesome. It’s surprising how much was squeezed out of quite a small budget, especially given the amount of work that went into the giant monster suit. The makeup and costuming for Melvin are both fantastic. If this movie has another redeeming factor, it’s the work that went into creating this creature. It doesn’t look like a goofy rubber monster suit any more than it should, and you can sort of, kind of, believe that the Toxic Avenger is real.
You’ll be unsurprised to hear that this is a cheesy and not at all serious movie. It revels in being a B-movie. It knows that its target audience wants this sort of thing. You’re not going to find good acting, cinematography, sound — the monster sound effects are possibly the worst thing about the production — or similar aspects. It’s all terrible. It’s all junk. I’d be fine with this if the film was entertaining, but there’s not enough here to hold my attention.
A silly but altogether too boring movie to be worth seeing, The Toxic Avenger has a great deal of violence and sex but what fills the holes between either of these is nothing particularly interesting. The social conscience aspect only helps so much. This is B-movie schlock, and while it has moments where it shocks or surprises, it doesn’t do enough to set itself apart or give us a reason to see it over any similar films. It’ll appeal to some seekers of terrible movies, but for most people it’s not something to watch.