Captain Nuke and The Bomber Boys (1996): It’s a Blast

Dave lights the fuse on one of Roger Corman’s lesser-known family flicks, and concludes that it’s an explosive mix of fun and foolery.

For the sheer unbridled delight that every Little Miss Millions (1993) brought into the world of Corman-concocted family fare, always remember that we had to endure a drudging dose of a Munchie (1992) too. Thankfully, CAPTAIN NUKE AND THE BOMBER BOYS sits in the former camp. Bulging with buffoonery, it’s a generally heart-warming frolic that serves its nerdy protagonists well.

Frankie (Michael Bower) is an easy target for bullies due to his sizable frame and unrelenting lisp. Best bud Slug (Ryan Thomas Johnson), meanwhile, is a serial miscreant who’s just been caught attempting to blow up the girls’ bathroom and is about to serve his eighteenth detention in barely three weeks. Mickey, on the other hand, sees himself as a ladies’ man, particularly when it comes to trying to woo Patty Conrad (Rebecca Budig). A geek is a geek though, and no high school hottie would be seen dead with their arms draped around him.

The blackboard jungle is the root of all evil for this trio – so when they stumble across an atomic bomb hidden in the depths of an abandoned restaurant, they use it as an opportunity to realign a system that’s cruelly thrown them overboard. Rechristening themselves as Captain Nuke and The Bomber Boys, they hoodwink hapless FBI Agent Jeff Snyder (Martin Sheen) into putting them in touch with the President (Rod Steiger), demanding that he enforces a decree to cancel school. Alas, best laid plans often go to waste – and when a penniless pair of sad sack hoodlums (Joe Mantegna and Joanna Pacula) steal the bomb for their own financial gain, the Boys’ impudent schoolboy prank evolves into a deadly threat on Los Angeles.

Despite a disappointingly sparse resume – on which Captain Nuke and The Bomber Boys sits as his sole directorial credit – Charles Gale still managed to chalk up some notable wins, not least by penning Sam Irvin’s riotous debut feature, Guilty as Charged (1991), but arguably the greatest Ernest P. Worrell venture of all time: Ernest Scared Stupid (1991). This Corman outing certainly cements his knack for witty scenarios that lean heavily on farce, and here it’s left to the likes of Sheen to bleed that element dry, with the Apocalypse Now (1979) star showing a canny ability for physical comedy. Mantegna and Pacula’s roles are a little underwritten, and they’re dogged with accents that defy classification – but in terms of cameos, Joe Piscopo almost steals the show as the kids’ annoying principal, Mr. Wareman. For Corman scholars, there’s a cool car chase climax that takes place in the grounds of a dilapidated drive-in theatre, which makes for a charming nod in the direction of the great mogul, while there’s also an earworm slice of power-pop accompanying the end credits (I Wish I Had an Atomic Bomb) that’s frustratingly missing accreditation, even if it does share an uncanny similarity with Elvis Costello’s Radio, Radio.

Occurring on 19th April 1995, The Oklahoma City bombing was the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history so pushing a film for release called Captain Nuke and The Bomber Boys six months later wasn’t the most sensible or tasteful of moves by Concorde-New Horizons. It certainly goes some way to explaining why, when it made its Showtime debut the following year, Corman rebranded Gale’s picture as ‘Demolition Day’ – though it swiftly reverted to its original moniker as early as January ’97.

USA ● 1996 ● Family, Comedy ● 90mins

Joe Mantegna, Martin Sheen, Joanna Pacula, Joe Piscopo ● Dir./Wri. Charles Gale

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