Friday, November 15, 2013

Movie Review: Turbo

Directed by: David Soren.
Written by: Darren Lemke & Robert D. Siegel & David Soren.
Starring: Ryan Reynolds (Turbo), Paul Giamatti (Chet), Michael Peña (Tito), Samuel L. Jackson  (Whiplash), Luis Guzmán (Angelo), Bill Hader (Guy Gagné), Snoop Dogg (Smoove Move), Maya Rudolph (Burn), Ben Schwartz (Skidmark), Richard Jenkins (Bobby), Ken Jeong (Kim Ly), Michelle Rodriguez (Paz).

My daughter was mesmerized by the first 45 minutes or so of Turbo. Mind you, she’s two, and reacts with the type of joy only a two year old can have every time the Bubble Guppies comes on TV, so what does she know? Still, watching her drawn into a movie for the first time made the experience of watching Turbo more enjoyable than it otherwise would be. Turbo is by no means a bad movie – it is bright, colorful, fast moving, has good voice and I was never bored by the film. But I was also never drawn into the film either – perhaps I was too distracted by my daughter, but to me Turbo, like most animated films this year, is just another animated film that’s kind of there.

The story is about a snail named Theo who dreams of racing. He stays up all night watching old VHS tapes (how retro!) of Indy Car racing – where his hero is Guy Gagne – a seemingly humble man, who never the less always wins. Theo’s brother is Chet, and he’s a worried – he wants Theo to give up his dreams, and settle into a dreary life in the garden, picking and sorting tomatoes like the rest of the snails. Then, through a series of events too bizarre to recount, Theo gains super speed – he no longer has to go through life at a snail’s pace, but no he can race with the fastest cars on the planet. He is discovered by Tito, who along with his brother Angelo runs a Taco stand and food truck (because, I guess have them sell sombreros would be too on the nose). Tito, like Theo, is a dreamer – Angelo, like Chet, wants him to settle down into a dreary life. Then, through another strange series of events, Tito decides to take Theo – now nicknamed Turbo – to the Indy 500, and somehow, convinces everyone to allow Turbo to race against, among others, Guy Gagne. Turbo is accompanied on his journey by Chet, and a ragtag group of wisecracking snails.

Yes, the plot of Turbo is ridiculous – even by the standards of children’s animation – but it works in an old fashioned kind of way. Turbo at heart is an underdog story about the little snail that won’t give up, even though no one believes in him. It’s not a new story, but it’s survived so long because it’s an effective one.

The voice work is consistently good in Turbo – if only because the film stars precisely the actor you would expect in every vocal role, which means you don’t really have to work on developing the characters, the come wholly formed. Young hotshot – Ryan Reynolds, nervous, neurotic brother – Paul Giamatti, cool snail – Samuel L. Jackson, snail who sounds like he’s high on pot the whole movie – Snoop Dogg, nice Mexican – Michael Pena, seemingly mean Mexican who softens – Greendale’s own Luis Guzman, tough Mexican woman – Michelle Rodriguez, Asian – Ken Jeong (the fact that it’s a woman apparently doesn’t matter), guy who can do a phony French accent because we obviously wrote the role for Sacha Baron Cohen based on Talladega Nights but he said no – Bill Hader. You get the idea. One of the bad things about the now two decade old trend of casting famous actor in every prominent vocal role in animation is that really talented voice artists are now relegated strictly to TV – one of the good things is that instantly recognizable voices can act as a storytelling shorthand to tell us everything we need to know about the characters – and Turbo uses that to its advantage.

The film is well animated – even if I do wish it didn’t insist on being quite so blindingly colorful and fast moving at it’s ever moment – but based on the fact my daughter’s interest waned in the few moments the movie did slow down, but was instantly drawn back in when things sped up again, perhaps the filmmakers know their audience better than I do. Then again, I feel the need to point out once again that my daughter is two. If you have kids, that Turbo will keep them entertained. I don’t know if it will become a title they watch over and over again like kids love to do, but it will keep them distracted for 90 minutes, and it won’t drive you nuts as a parent (at least the first time through). Turbo does what it sets out to do – which is to be an enjoyable kid’s movie, so if you have kids, by all means, see it. But if you don’t, I can’t think of a reason why you need to see it.

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