August 08, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


Grade: D +
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner and Whoopi Goldberg
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 41 minutes

For all the promises of a new and improved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT), this Michael Bay-produced reboot is an exercise is generic, industrial line sameness. The budget is clearly bigger, but precious little of it was allocated to competent screenwriting. Or acting coaches.

The film is officially directed by Jonathan Liebesman, but if you played the Michael Bay drinking game and downed a shot for every windblown, zoom-in closeup, you’d be drunk inside the opening 10 minutes. Then imagine a Transformers movie where all the Transformers are Wheelie/Skids and, well, turtle-bots.

The contrivances start early, when the little girl who once rescued four genetically-altered turtles from a burning lab just happens to become April O’Neil (Megan Fox), the adult TV reporter who eventually stumbles across the quartet of talking, crime-fighting reptiles and their man-sized rat sensei, Splinter.

The secret, sewer-dwelling turtles—Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello—are busy protecting New York City from the dastardly Foot Clan and its leader, Shredder. Shredder wears a multi-bladed suit of armor and is the sort of villain who says things like, “Tonight, I will dine on turtle soup,” and “Activate the toxin release procedure.”

Ah, of course there’s always some toxin or mutagen or cellular alteration. And the grand plan of Shredder and nefarious industrialist William Fichtner … er, Eric Sachs (William Fichtner) is to release a deadly gas kept inside their skyscraper's spire, then clean up selling the antidote derived from the Ninja Turtles’ mutated blood. However, the baddies didn’t even know the TMNTs were alive until mere hours before turtle-napping them and revealing this plan, so when exactly did they assemble and erect this gas-filled spire? Was the poisonous gas always there, and if so, why didn’t the Foot Clan release it long ago before the TMNTs arrived instead of spending years committing petty street crimes? Or was it always an early investment in a get-rich-quick scheme just waiting for the right catalyst?

The rest of TMNT is a series of interchangeable set pieces and head-spinning visual effects, all punctuated by bad puns and faux-seriousness. And if by film’s end you have a sudden urge to scarf down pizza from a prominently-placed chain, well, that’s no accident either.

The motion-capture process used to render the turtles is quite striking. But to what purpose? "Cowabunga?" More like Cowa-bungle.

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