Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Turbo / *** (PG)

Featuring the voices of:
Theo/Turbo: Ryan Reynolds
Chet: Paul Giamatti
Tito: Michael Peña
Whiplash: Samuel L. Jackson
Angelo: Luis Guzmán
Guy Gagné: Bill Hader
Smoove Move: Snoop Dogg
Burn: Maya Rudolph
Skidmark: Ben Schwartz
Bobby: Richard Jenkins
Kim Ly: Ken Jeong
Paz: Michelle Rodriguez
White Shadow: Michael Patrick Bell

DreamWorks Animation SKG presents a film directed by David Soren. Written by Darren Lemke and Robert Siegel and Soren. Running time: 96 min. Rated PG (for some mild action and thematic elements).

OK, there’s this huge monumental absurdly ridiculous detail in the new movie “Turbo” that you must just accept for all its improbability in order to enjoy the movie. The filmmakers seem to be acutely aware of the level of suspension of disbelief for which they are asking here. The idea of a snail competing in the Indianapolis 500 car race is an absolutely incongruous rock to swallow. But then, this is a family cartoon, not a place where realism is one of the cornerstones of the genre. So, if you can get past that little nugget of improbability, that’s about the most amount of work you’re going to have to do for this good-natured, feel good cartoon.

Theo is a snail. As depicted here, a snail’s life isn’t all that different from a human factory worker, or office worker. I suppose we aren’t in as much danger of being scooped up by a hungry bird on our morning commute. Like everything else in a snail’s life, that’s just an element of it. It happens.

It is no surprise to discover that Theo dreams of something greater. He watches Indy car races in the garage where he shelters every evening just a few yards away from the tomato garden where he and his brother work every day. His brother, Chet, is a more sensible snail who spends much of his time defending his brother against snails who wish Theo would take his dreams of speed and zoom away from their garden. Even Chet has reached his final nerve for Theo’s unrealistic goals.

After making a fool of himself at the tomato plant (ha! I just got that), Theo wanders off and ends up on the hood of a street-racing car in an aqueduct race. While he enjoys the speed of the race, he’s eventually sucked up into the car’s engine. When the driver injects nitro into the system, Theo is changed; much the same way a superhero changes when whatever experiment they’re working on imbues them with their superpowers. Director David Soren designs this sequence to mirror such transformation sequences in superhero movies.

When Theo wakes, he finds he has the power of speed and decides to call himself Turbo. Through a series of setbacks, he and Chet find themselves hooked up with a band of misfits, both snail and human. The humans occupy a run down strip mall. Tito and his brother run a taco stand that doesn’t exactly benefit from Tito’s harebrained schemes. It’s no surprise that his brother doesn’t support his idea to enter his newfound snail into the Indy 500.  As you can probably guess they do and it does, eventually.

There is very little original to be found in this material, but it has all the necessary elements to make it successful. There is a large cast of characters, who all bring their unique abilities to making Turbo’s dreams come true. It also allows for a good amount of recognizable voices, like Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Hader, Snoop Dogg, and Richard Jenkins, among others. Yes, that’s the guy from “Community” and “The Hangover”, Ken Jeong, voicing the old Asian woman.

Like any good family film, “Turbo” contains a message about believing in yourself, or finding your true self, or being true to who you are, or some such thing that will give the whole experience poignancy for your kids to bring away from it other than just watching a snail race around a track and seeing some cars crash. What I liked a little more about this message was that it had a qualifier to it. You can’t just be true to yourself. A feat like that requires support, and another message of the movie is the importance of believing in others. It’s no mistake the two lead characters are brothers. This is one of the hardest things for brothers to do. Trust me as a younger brother myself. But if an older brother can support a younger brother, nothing is more powerful.

“Turbo” isn’t going to set any artistic records. This is a pretty well traveled track. Many cars have taken a spin here, but the movie is a lot of fun. It doesn’t really take any risks, but it doesn’t take any wrong turns either. It knows how to get to Indianapolis without getting lost in Albuquerque, and the trip is worth it.

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