Some cult films achieve legendary status for being 'so bad it's good', and others because they are gems of films which slipped under the radar of mainstream audiences. Despite sequels, spin off video games and an animated series which was quite popular in the '90s, this late '70s B-movie is still relatively unknown. It would be unfair to call it a bad film, it actually contains some absolutely brilliant comedy moments and the deadpan delivery pre-dates the more popular "Airplane!" by a couple of years.
The premise is simple - tomatoes for a reason only hinted at towards the beginning of the film, are attacking everything around them and threatening humanity. The first tomato attack occurs before the main opening titles roll when we see a screaming woman recoil in sheer terror as a tomato bounces out of the sink and rolls towards her - it's a great tongue in cheek moment which sets the tone for the rest of the film. A series of ridiculous tomato related deaths soon follow, each one is brilliantly absurd and we never actually see the attack, just the sound effect of a tomato in full frenzy and perhaps the reaction of a screeching onlooker. There are pop culture references here with nods to Superman and one of the best Jaws spoofs ever when swimmers are 'attacked' by the least threatening looking tomatoes ever seen, bobbing around in the water.
For the first half of the film the script is genuinely brilliant, it is full of throwaway jokes and there are visual gags aplenty, some are quite subtle ("Steroids" breakfast cereal) but some are more obvious such as the improbably small meeting room where several officials meet to discuss how to deal with the tomato threat. Probably the best running joke in the film is the obviously dubbed Japanese scientist, a great parody of the bad seventies American dubs of Japanese films.
The second half of the film is less impressive and it does start to look as though the whole thing is running out of steam. A genius spoof of the B-movie genre turns into what it was satirising in the first place. The film contains musical numbers, and although they are amusing to start with, the novelty soon wears off.
In a nutshell: The first 45 minutes of this film represents some of the finest film comedy I've seen - silly literal humour which has been done since in better known films, but still not necessarily better than you see here. Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes sets up a completely implausible set of circumstances and commits to it for the duration of the film, if the quality of the humour was maintained into the second half then this would be an easy 5 star film, but you start to lose interest and find yourself hoping that the man versus tomato battle ends swiftly, one way or another.
It has to be said though that you're not likely to see another film where a tomato takes down a helicopter.