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If Shakespeare had been more like this when I was in high school, I'd have a friggin' Master's degree in English Literature. Granted, it would probably do me just about as much good as what I have now, but I'd still probably have it.
The latest in MCFTR's Tribute to Troma is 1996's TROMEO AND JULIET, one of the studio's most popular in-house productions. This film, as the title might imply, is Troma's take on Shakespeare's most famous work. Everything from the basic story to the characters are kept more or less true to the original source material, and the dialogue often draws from the Bard himself. But this movie is way different from anything that came out of 16th century England. The characters are street punks, and I don't mean those squeaky-clean WEST SIDE STORY street punks. But it gets even more bizarre than just that.
Of course, the story still involves feuding familes. This time, it's the Capulets against the "Ques", led of course by their patriarch, "Monty". Get it? The feud in this adaptation stems from Lord "Cappy" Capulet swindling a film company away from Monty, as well as stealing his bride. The characters may all seem familiar to Bard-buffs, but some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent. This time around, Paris is known as "London", Mercutio is "Murray", and Tybalt is "Tyrone". On top of that, Friar Laurence is now a Catholic Preist who likes young boys, Juliet's Nurse is now a tattooed and pierced Lesbian, and Peter is, well, lacking a Peter, portrayed as a woman.
And to top it all off, the whole thing is narrated by Lemmy from Motörhead. If that don't score it some points, nothing will.
As you might expect, Tromeo meets Juliet while in disguise at a Masquerade ball. He's dressed like a cow, which amuses her greatly, probably because her fiancee London is the heir to a butchery and she happens to be a vegetarian. They fall in love at an instant, but their first night is cut short when Tromeo is discovered by Juliet's kinfolk, who don't want any of them Ques running around here. The star-crossed lovers are anxious to see one another again, but their roots may make that a difficult task.
It doesn't help much that Cappy is a lecherous pervert who locks his daughter up in a plexiglas prison every time she has a bad dream. He would rather see Juliet dead than not marry a Billionaire's son like London, so Tromeo has his work cut out for him. It's hard to win over the love of your life when she's being imprisoned by a sex freak and often visits the world of Sappho with her own nurse, but he does so anyway. Tromeo suggests that to avoid Juliet's arranged marriage, they go ahead and get hitched early on by Father Laurence, and suddenly all hell breaks loose.
Tyrone confronts Murray and his friends the Ques in Benvolio, er, "Benny"'s tattoo and piercing parlor, and the next thing you know, Murray gets a hatchet stuck in his school. A battle breaks out, and Tyrone winds up losing fairly important body parts one at a time. Cappy tries to force Juliet into bondage with London, but she purchases a potion from a Rastafarian priest that turns her into a hermaphroditic goat-thing and quickly forces her unwanted suitor to toss himself out of a third-story window.
In true Troma fashion, this film doesn't do anything subtly. As one might expect, it's filled to the brim with crude jokes, kinky sex, ridiculous gore, and all the morality of a three-dollar hooker. Heads explode, eyeballs get plucked out, and squirrels hang from nooses. One can't help but wince at an extreme closeup of an actual nipple-piercing. No topic is off-limits for plot devices either, not even the celebration of incest.
But the one big surprise you might get here is how polished this film is compared to some of Troma's earlier releases. A film in this vein really doesn't require great acting, but there is actually a lot of talent in this cast. Cappy is the standout as Cappy, bringing to life a reprehensible beast of a man. Will Keenan and Jane Jensen have some pretty good chemistry as the title characters, and although they weren't exactly eyeing Oscars that year, they looked a lot more comfortable reciting Shakespeare than Keanu Reeves or Leonardo DiCaprio do. Oh, sure, all of the acting is completely over-the-top (this is Troma, after all) but it adds a positive element to the film as a whole.
This film came out in 1996, and was actually completed before Baz Luhrmann released his big MTV-generation update of the play. TROMEO AND JULIET is everything that Luhrmann wished he could get away with, and in this reviewer's opinion, is far more watchable than that pretentious-without-merit piece of dung, even without the 20-million dollar budget and Hip Young Stars of the Month. Sure, it ain't Shakespeare, but...oh wait. It is Shakespeare. I can't use that line this time.
On a totally random tangent here, I was actually for a moment curious about when the film was released because of one particular scene. The tattoo parlor the Ques hang out in has a large poster on the wall of a red-haired woman that you might find familiar. It's the image that adorns the cover of the metal band Godsmack's 1998 self-titled album. How does the cover of a record that was released in 1998 appear in a movie that was made several years earlier? Well, after a little research, it turns out that the image was actually from a tattoo magazine from several years before, and the Godsmack guys liked it so much they got the rights to use it as a cover. And you thought Godsmack was just unoriginal musically!
Yeah, this thing is sure to tick off the purists. But honestly, I've met a lot of Shakespeare purists, and most of them are the kind of people who you'd want to tick off. TROMEO AND JULIET is an inspired, original update of a classic, and is highly recommended to anyone who does not have a large inanimate object lodged in their rectal area.
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