Sunday, August 24, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / ** (PG-13)

April O’Neil: Megan Fox
Vernon Fenwick: Will Arnett
Eric Sacks: William Fichtner
Bernadette Thompson: Whoopi Goldberg

Voice & motion capture performances:
Raphael: Alan Ritchson
Michelangelo: Noel Fisher
Leonardo: Pete Ploszek
Leonardo (voice): Johnny Knoxville
Donatello: Jeremy Howard
Splinter: Danny Woodburn
Splinter (voice): Tony Shaloub
Shredder: Tohoru Masamune

Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies present a film directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Written by Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec and Evan Daugherty. Based on the comic book by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman. Running time: 101 min. Rated PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence).

I’m gonna be honest here. I’ve never liked “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. When I first started collecting comic books in 1986, the independent comic book scene was on the rise, and leading the charge was Mirage Studio’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. I understood that it was meant to be a parody of popular comic books at the time, but I just couldn’t get into the humor and attitude of the book. As such, I am not the audience for any cinematic incarnation of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”.

My nine-year-old son on the other hand… well, it was no surprise to me when I found myself in a screening of the latest reboot of the film franchise “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. I’d successfully avoided every other Ninja Turtle movie up to this point. I easily skipped out on the 90s trilogy due to adulthood. Luckily in 2007, none of my boys were interested in the Turtles, which kept me out of the CGI-animated “TMNT”. I just knew I wouldn’t get out of it this time.

I will admit that it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. In fact, this might be the best Ninja Turtles movie it is possible to make. I mean it’s a movie about four mutated turtles that are both teenagers and ninjas; it ain’t gonna be Shakespeare.

So, as a reboot, the film approaches its story as if the audience doesn’t know anything about mutant teenage turtle ninjas, which is good for me since I haven’t really paid any attention in thirty years and I didn’t care thirty ago. We meet April O’Neil, an attractive girl who just wants to be taken seriously as a journalist. She works as a television reporter for a New York City station, but is relegated to fluff pieces that capitalize on her looks. Megan Fox fits pretty well into this role.

Meanwhile, an organized crime syndicate, known as the Foot Gang, has been terrorizing the city for weeks. April has been dragging her cameraman, Vernon Fenwick, around to all the shipping docks to try and get exclusive information on their activities. Fenwick suggests that April might be better off just accepting her place, all the while trying to hit on her. Will Arnett, perhaps best known for his work on “Arrested Development” as the magician brother Gob, has obviously been brought in to provide comic relief, at least until the Turtles make their entrance.

One night April stumbles upon a Foot smuggling deal that is broken up by a mysterious vigilante. Without any back up she discovers that there is not one vigilante, but four, and they just happen to be giant humanoid like turtles who provide the other key pieces of information to April that they are also ninjas and teenagers. You may wonder why I keep emphasizing these descriptors that are made all too obvious by the film’s title, but it seems the screenwriters didn’t feel the title made it clear enough, so they point out all four of the heroes’ shared traits at every opportunity they can. When April brings this information to her editor without any evidence to back her up… well, apparently the editor doesn’t know the title of the movie she’s in either.

It’s really the turtles themselves that I’ve always had trouble swallowing with this franchise. They’re each named after a different Renaissance artist. It’s explained why, although it hardly matters. They look better here than they ever have before. They have weight and Jonathan Liebesman’s direction seems to frame them into compositions that recall some of the comic book art. But, they’re so damn annoying. I suppose that’s the whole teenager thing, but perhaps making the heroes teenagers is a mistake to begin with if they’re too annoying for audience members to get fully behind them. Much of their teenagerness is conveyed to the audience through snappy dialogue that seems as if it might appeal to more of a pre-teen crowd. They’re almost trying too hard to be hip and cool for me to believe that teenagers would think so. 7 to 12-year-olds on the other hand, will eat this stuff up.

As I said, this stuff wasn’t made for me. My nine-year-old walked home from the theater fighting off invisible bad guys and telling me about the Ninja Turtle he created in his head who wears a black mask. Of course, he had to look up some more Renaissance artists when we got home to come up with a name. It will please its target audience, which isn’t really old enough for the PG-13 rating, but the rating seems a little hard for the material. While the movie looks good, it still hasn’t converted me to a Turtles fan. My son is ready to yell “Cowabunga!” however.

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