The short film MR. TOPPS has an interesting biography. If I’m understanding it correctly, the filmmaker, Adam de la Cour, made a donation to a kickstarter campaign for an upcoming Troma film, RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH VOLUME 2, and as a result he got to create a short film that would appear as an extra on the BluRay version of said longer film. After he submitted his script to Troma, the powers-that-be over there must have dug it, because Troma stalwart Lloyd Kaufman agreed to appear in the film as “Battery Bob the Chicken Man,” a wisecracking deformity that put me in mind (visually) of the human duck at the end of Tod Browning’s FREAKS, which leads me to suspect that de la Cour intended it for an homage. If not, it was a happy accident. (And if my mentioning of FREAKS in a review of MR. TOPPS doesn’t give you literary whiplash, an injurious reaction to such a bounding leap from the north pole to the south pole of creative endeavors and cinematic achievement, then you probably have a strong enough constitution not to be totally put off by the latter effort.) The BluRay containing MR. TOPPS is, according to the creator, due out at the end of this month.
So what’s it ABOUT? So tempting, here, to say: “ABOUT ten minutes too long,” but I will refrain. (Note: The movie is only ten minutes long.) There’s this guy, Mr. Topps, a circus ringleader, or at least he’s dressed like one, and he’s being help prisoner by, and tortured by, some gravelly-voiced SAW wannabe who you never see—until you do. (I liked it better before, honestly.) I had a hard time understanding what S.W. (SAW wannabe) was saying half the time. Mr. Topps is gagged, and the viewers are provided subtitles so that we’ll be able to understand what he’s trying to say, but alas we get no subtitles for S.W. We then bear witness to various individuals from Mr. Topps’s past showing up to remind him of wrongs that he’s committed. Then it all turns out to be a surprise birthday party for the guy.
No, I can’t swear to it.
Mr. de la Cour says of his work: “I often try to make my film narratives linear in some way, but they seem to fall off the wagon.” (This one sure did.) Says de la Cour: “I like hyperreal and surreal imagery…[Score.]…the mundane absurdity…[Score!]…I think MR. TOPPS is a morality tale/kitchen sink drama, but it’s probably just a cheaply made horror comedy, inhabited by freaks” [SCORE!].
Here’s the thing, though. Or a couple of things. The cinematography is crisp and slick; it looks far better than one would expect considering the micro-budget with which the film was fashioned. The movie LOOKS good. While I cannot in any honesty say that it was my cup of Earl Grey, MR. TOPPS was crafted with skill; this comes through in the viewing. It’s not to my tastes, but that doesn’t mean it was a shoddy effort. I don’t believe it was. I believe it was a passionate effort, a labor of love, that resulted in something unappealing to me. Think of a skilled and even celebrated chef preparing a dish of frog’s legs. I’m not going to like it, just because it’s frog’s legs and I hate frog’s legs. Does that automatically mean the guy in the kitchen is a lousy cook? Not necessarily.
Bottom line, this short was made for a Troma film. If your personal tastes run to the kind of glorious shlockiness that Troma is know for—and I do confess that my enjoyment of Troma is limited to the TOXIC AVENGER cartoon series from the early 90s (And don’t anybody tell me you don’t remember it!)—you are a far better candidate than I to judge the quality of MR. TOPPS. Thus it is that I am giving it a provisional recommendation. I’m passing it on to a jury of its peers that is more peer-ish. I’m saying, you MIGHT like it, regardless of the fact that I didn’t. I am told there are folks who find frog’s legs quite tasty. If this is your bag, friends, I wish you bon appetit!
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- MR. TOPPS (2016): Short Film Review…A Very Skillful, If Somewhat Incoherent, Creation - September 12, 2016