Bad movies come in many varieties. There are the dull ones, the ones with continuity errors and sloppy technical aspects, the ones with howlingly bad performances. There are offensive ones, or ones that simply don’t work on their own terms. There are the ones whose sheer terribleness provokes amazement and joy – the “so bad, it’s good” entries in the cinematic pantheon.
And then there is Foodfight!
The brain child of Lawrence Kasanoff, who headed up Threshold Animation Studios, Foodfight! exists in an alternate dimension, where prosaic terms like “good” and “bad” have become meaningless. To call it a “poor film” is to do it a disservice – it is so inexplicably, inexpressively awful that it seems more like a fever dream than a movie. It is so misconceived, so ugly to look at, and so deeply unfunny and unenjoyable that it has carved out a unique spot for itself – it’s virtually an anti-film, a pun-filled, 90 minute long commercial for corporate products no one should, could, or will ever want again. In some ways, it’s a triumph for all our worst impulses and a showcase for the most incredible lack of taste Hollywood has to offer.
It’s also, allegedly, a movie intended for children. No one who has met a child – or met someone who used to be a child, or perhaps was once a child themselves – could condone this in any way.
As detailed for posterity in his My Year of Flops series, Nathan Rabin provides the back story in one of the greatest and funniest film reviews of all time (and one which makes this particular review kind of superfluous, but bear with me – I need to expunge Foodfight! from my psyche). Originally intended as an answer to Pixar’s dominance, Threshold wrangled a bunch of voice talent – by which I mean Charlie Sheen, Hilary Duff, and Wayne Brady – for their CGI spectacular and sank $65 million into this nearly unwatchable thing. (According to IMDB, it made a profoundly justifiable 1% of this back at the box office before being hastily removed from public view.)
Everything about the project seems to indicate the gods, in their wisdom, didn’t wish for Foodfight! to see the light of day – the original version was apparently stolen (presumably by a concerned citizen), compelling the filmmakers to start over.
The message was clear – fate and decency itself rebelled against Foodfight!’s existence – but the message went sadly unheeded.
Instead, its creators soldiered on, intent on delivering the goods – goods so questionable they pose existential questions. Why would this be a worthwhile idea? Why should it exist when other things do not? Can I really be said to “exist” when Foodfight! does, too? What do we mean by “existence”?
But exist it does, available on Netflix and elsewhere. Kasanoff’s terrifying dystopian vision that thinks it’s an amusing family-friendly romp follows the incredibly mundane adventures of Dex Dogtective (Sheen), a cartoon dog whose style alternates between Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones and Humphrey Bogart as Casablanca’s Rick (every kid’s favorite cinematic WWII café owner, of course. “Let’s play ‘Rick and Ilsa!’, as the kids always shout. “Why does Billy always get to be Sidney Greenstreet?” as they always add.).
Dex is the protector, the law and order, the wheeler and dealer of an alternate reality: you see, every night, when the grocery store closes down, the people leave, but the corporate mascots come alive! That’s exciting, right? (No, it is not.)
It’s an elaborate universe, the kind of place where streets are filled with what seem to be Wii avatars and wildly gesticulating CGI whatsits, where Mr. Clean roams the aisles with Mrs. Butterworth, and a cheese logo amusingly passes gas, much to the dismay of his tidier and more polite zombie pitchmen. It’s filled with cars (?) and all kinds of goings-on that, for all intents and purposes, look like first-generation video games. More than once, I thought, “Man, I wish this was How To Train Your Dragon 2.” And I hated How To Train Your Dragon 2.
Dex Dogtective (whose full name I enjoy writing, actually) is in love with a raisin mascot, Sunshine Goodness (Duff), an uncanny and nightmarish hybrid between actual Hilary Duff, a cat, and a busty human woman, with eyes that never focus on anything and a eerie, childlike demeanor. Even leaving aside the implications of interspecies sex implicit in this relationship, it is uniquely horrifying to pair her up with Dex Dogtective – like the real Sheen and Duff (oh no, have I started making Foodfight!-esque bawdy puns? Please god, no), there’s a clear age difference that doesn’t sit quite right, and the way in which they look past each other with their dead, impossible eyes is deep, deep in the uncanny valley.
Dex and Sunshine have a friend in Daredevil Dan, an incompetent pilot who is also a chocolate squirrel, and also, on some level, Wayne Brady. In one of its more egregious violations of all that is good and right with the world, Foodfight! tries to get comic mileage from Dan’s blackness (he’s chocolate, remember) – hollering out his airplane window at a character I assume is a Latina sex worker working one of the seedier aisles in the store, he shouts, ““Oh Mamacita! Yo, sweetcakes! Ooh, Nice packaging! How about some chocolate frosting! I’d like to butter your muffin!” Later, a gay and rather predatory Count Chocula hits on him in a deeply traumatizing fashion.
Again, Foodfight! is, at least by its own estimation, supposed to be for kids. I can’t emphasize this enough.
The plot, such as it is, kicks into gear. A nefarious operation known as Brand X seeks to take over the store shelves, and bend all the lovable corporate icons to its will. (Did I mention that the icons are known colloquially as “Ikes” in their nightmare-land? This is true, and stupid.) Led by a BDSM (and occasionally schoolgirl)-styled sexpot known as Lady X (Eva Longoria), Brand X wants nothing less than total market domination, and is willing to go to extremes to get it.
Backed by jackbooted, goose-stepping, Heil Hitlering minions, Brand X is not merely fascist in a general symbolic sense, but is specifically meant to evoke the Nazis. Dissenters – indeed, in the film’s language, “undesirables” – are rounded up and placed in a camp devoted to their “discontinuation.” They are “forcibly recalled.” In a dramatic scene that is sure to stir the blood of all the children in attendance, the recalled products even band together one day to sing a food-themed La Marseillase to drown out the militant chanting of Brand X thugs … just like in that movie that 5 year olds like so much, Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion! Ha ha ha!
It’s up to Dex Dogtective to mount la resistance, and perform the ultimate act of heroism – sending an email to corporate headquarters alerting them to the danger posed by this generic, presumably cheaper product that’s threatening to drive the corporations from the store. And also to explain, in endless exposition, what’s going on, because none of it makes any sense at all.
A final battle ensues – let’s call it, oh I don’t know, a “food fight” – in which numerous food items are hurled, catapulted, and poured on the enemy forces in a pitched street battle. Later there’s an aerial war, too. I don’t know why there’s not a sea of cheese for macaroni armadas to contest, but I’m guessing that got left on the editing room floor.
Not much else did, though. Foodfight! is some of the longest 90 minutes you will ever spend watching a film. Here’s a transcript of an actual conversation with my viewing companion:
Viewing Companion: “How much is left in this fucking thing?”
Me: “Um [checks DVD] … wow. 20 minutes.”
Viewing Companion: “How is that possible?”
Responding that 20 minutes are left usually implies that the film is almost over. In Foodfight!’s case, it borders on an incomprehensible insult, a leering injustice, just another mystery of many.
As mentioned previously, farting plays a key role in its appeal for laughs, but the film’s main strategy is the pun. The stupid, stupid pun. In keeping with its inscrutable assumption that children just love Casablanca, Jean Renoir, and gangster movies, Dex Dogtective eventually heads up a club, The Cocabanana. In a kiss-off scene, he boldly declares, “Frankly, my dear? I don’t give a Spam.” Lady X, a detergent icon, is so evil that she has stains that will never come out. This never, ever stops.
An almost unbelievable moment arrives, in this most unbelievable movie, when Dex turns to the camera and calls Lady X “a cold, farted itch.” I actually rewatched this later to ensure that it wasn’t a joke I made earlier in the film. Sheen’s delivery is one for the ages, in the sense that the kind, merciful passing of time will obliterate it, like a shattered dam flooding a factory in the valley below.
And all the while, corporate mascots mingle awkwardly in the background; as Rabin notes, they’re not even part of the story really, so that’s yet another mystery. Why acquire the rights to 80 logos, only to shove them in the back of the frame? Surely there was something Mr. Clean could’ve done apart from getting things hilariously spilled on him (see, that makes him dirty, so it’s funny). Sure, the Chiquita Banana can dance, but is that all she can do? How does Mrs. Butterworth get around with no feet? You get the distinct sense that even the fucking cartoons don’t want to be here.
Foodfight! doesn’t just raise more questions than it answers. It raises a set of disreputable questions that, the more you consider them, the more horrifying they become. Let’s say Sunshine Goodness and Dex Dogtective do have kids and live happily ever after – what will their kids’ eyes be like? This isn’t a rhetorical question. It’s the kind of thing that’s now keeping me up at night. Will there be a Rosemary’s Baby reference about Satan’s spawn, to amuse the tots? Will Sunshine Goodness scream, “What’s the matter with its eyes?” and a tiny dog-cat-person jump up and sing Jeepers creepers, where did you get those peepers? I am troubled by the possibility.
But rest assured — the film wraps things up tidily. In the end, the corporate icons vanquish their generic, Nazi doppelgangers, and all is right with the world. Or the worlds, I should say – the store is no longer offering discount goods to daytime human shoppers, thanks to the forced recall of Brand X, and Mr. Clean, Mrs. Butterworth, Charlie Tuna, and their compatriots continue to generate top dollar, affirming once and for all the supremacy of late capitalism. At nighttime, the 1% of corporate logos frolic.
And Dex Dogtective, Sunshine Goodness, Daredevil Dan the chocolate squirrel, and all their made-for-Foodfight! (and incongruously off-brand) personas continue to thrive.
Somewhere, even today, the California Raisins are serenading a party where the Chiquita Banana salsa-dances with Cap’n Crunch. In the distance, the fascists plot revenge — dreaming up yet more references, perhaps to Metropolis, Last Tango in Paris, or Edward Penishands 3 — and more puns are aggressively foisted on the world, almost certainly related to bodily excretions and viscous dairy products.
Rest easy, children.