August 08, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

ACTION/ADVENTURE:

United States, 2014

U.S. Release Date:

2014-08-08

Running Length:

1:41

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Alan Ritchson, Johnny Knoxville (voice), Pete Ploszek, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard

Director:

Jonathan Liebesman

Screenplay:

Josh Appelbaum & Andre Nemec and Evan Daugherty, based on characters created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman

Cinematography:

Lula Carvalho

Music:

Brian Tyler

U.S. Distributor:

Paramount Pictures

Subtitles:

none


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the 2014 iteration of a franchise that has been a kids' staple for more than 25 years, is a close cousin to Transformers. Both gained mainstream popularity as a result of toys and TV shows, both have die-hard followings, and now Michael Bay has his fingerprints all over both. Bay didn't direct Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (that credit goes to Jonathan Liebsman, who made the plodding Wrath of the Titans and the awful Battle Los Angeles), but he's listed as a producer and the litany of ear-splitting noise, explosions, fast-editing, and nonstop CGI are all Bay hallmarks. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doesn't so much provide brainless enjoyment as it pummels the viewer into submission. "Shell-shocked" is a reasonable description of the experience.

The movie is designed primarily to appeal to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans - new ones in particular. The target age group is 10-14 year olds. Older fans, drawn to this project by a combination of nostalgia and curiosity, may find the changes made to the mythology to be too extreme for comfort. (One die-hard was heard complaining that the new turtles have noses.) For anyone unfamiliar with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or who prefers a coherent narrative, sitting through this will be uncomfortable and pointless. The only real advantage it has over the recent Transformers: Age of Extinction is that it's an hour shorter.

The movie starts out focused not on the computer enhanced turtles but on would-be ace TV news reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox), a Brenda Starr wannabe. While investigating the terrorist activities of a group called the "Foot Clan," April has her first encounter with a vigilante quartet of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Raphael (Alan Richardson), Leonardo (Pete Ploszek, with voice by Johnny Knoxville), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), and Donatello (Jeremy Howard). She later meets their mentor, a giant talking rat called Splinter (Danny Woodburn, voice of Tony Shalhoub). Together with her sidekick, cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), April tracks the turtles and occasionally helps them as they seek to put an end to the reign of terror perpetrated by the Foot Clan, their powerful leader, Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), and their wealthy agent, Eric Sachs (William Fichtner).

How are the new turtles? None leaves much of a mark. Long-time Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans can form their own impressions, but the nerdy Donatello is the only one with a distinct personality; there's a sameness to the others. The CGI used to create them also limits viewer identification - they seem like two-dimensional live-action cartoon characters. The audience's "gateway" into their world is April O'Neil, but actress Megan Fox remains noteworthy more for her looks than her performance. She fits in well with all the other eye candy but April never seems like anything greater than an unnecessary appendage to a sloppily written story.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doesn't really work as a movie, but that's not surprising. It functions primarily as a 100-minute commercial for the toys. It looks and feels like a big-screen, 3D video game. The final confrontation with Shredder plays out like a "boss level." Give the filmmakers credit for knowing their audience. Teenage boys love video games; one of the difficulties getting them to theaters is pulling them away from their consoles. By making Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come as close to the visual and audio immersion of a game, the movie's production crew gives it a chance with those kids. Unfortunately, the film loses everyone else in the process. For most potential audience members, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles offers little more than a headache and the loss of the $10 admission fee.

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