Does Turbo's fast moves and beautiful animation make up for its superficial, predictable, and uninspiring tone? Read on to find out.
DreamWorks' newest animated film Turbo is proof positive of a growing trend for the genre: the production of slick-looking yet mindless pap. Gone are the days when Disney ruled with its films filled with hope AND a message. And while Turbo isn't terrible, there's too many characters who just aren't as funny or profound as they could have been.
Garden slug Theo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) lives with a community of snails who set out daily to collect fallen and spoiled tomatoes from the family garden, all while listening to safety announcements from his anxious brother Chet (Paul Giamatti). He's got reason to panic: the local crows regularly pick off the snails, and a human boy offers a dangerous hazard to the entire community. But Theo dreams of racing, inspired by the story of Indy race car driver Guy Gagné (Bill Hader), whose French accent and dogged determination have made him a popular leader in the racing world. After putting the snails in deep trouble, Theo wanders far from home until he gets caught in a Fast and Furious car race, somehow magically imbuing him with the power of speed. His eyes become headlights, his tail a back-up alert, his shell a high-powered machine.
Soon, he and Chet meet the Mexican food truck driver and big dreamer Tito (voiced by Michael Peña), who realizes Turbo's talent and wants to enter him in the Indianapolis 500. But his brother and fellow strip mall business owners, including Bobby the hobby store owner (Richard Jenkins), the hair stylist Kim-Ly (Ken Jeong), and the mechanic Paz (Michelle Rodriguez) are hesitant to invest. Turbo also meets an eclectic gang of city slugs including Burn (Maya Rudolph), Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg), and the ringleader Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), who encourage him to chase his dreams. Together with the humans, Turbo and Chet finally enter the race with the scrappy snail and Gagné predictably clashing at film's end.
Newcomer Director David Soren mixes fast-paced action scenes with slow Matrix-like flips and barrel rolls, borrowing everything he could about motion and realism from Pixar's Cars. This film looks and sounds great, with life-like details on everything from the feathers of the snail-hunting crows to the dirt and grit of Van Nuys' seedy streets. But a film must be more than mere eye candy, more than a series of fast-paced action sequences, and this is where Turbo fails to deliver. The script by Darren Lemke (Jack the Giant Slayer) slogs through many dramatic scenes about as effectively as the pace of Turbo's slug friends, with the "you can do anything..." message repeated far too often and less effectively each time it's employed. It's such a procedural film, with each Act more like a To-Do List than an enjoyable and meaningful thrill ride. Lemke made the same mistakes with Slayer, failing to weave well-constructed dialogue into the mix, resulting in a movie in which we didn't care about the characters. Here, he repeats the error by introducing too many faces and pasting thin development onto them. There's simply no reason why Whiplash needs such a large team, and why Tito needs so many semi-desperate shop owners to throw in their cash for the entrance fees. Moreover, Turbo feels like two different films slapped together, with the speedy snail and Tito not even meeting until Act 2. This leaves a first act filled with conversation about poor Turbo and why he needs to just get with the program, thus generating so little connection to the high-stakes racing environment of the third.
Soren does cast several excellent voice actors to portray these roles, including Giamatti, Jackson, Randolph, and the surprising Jeong. Reynolds is serviceable as Turbo, but his somewhat uninspiring performance unnecessarily slows things down to a crawl (no pun). Composer Henry Jackman (X-Men: First Class) creates a first-class orchestral environment, which sits nicely alongside music by Snoop Dog and several R&B classics. I would discourage you from paying for the 3D version - there's simply nothing here that's worth seeing in the more expensive format, and perhaps in the film as a whole. It is a harmless and wholesome affair, but why did it also have to be so dull and emotionally unsatisfying?
The idea of pitting a snail against human-sized crushing vehicles is such a long-shot pitch to begin with that perhaps DreamWorks should have taken better care with it in the first place. Perhaps in that way Turbo does succeed, mirroring the studio's zeal in bringing to production a film that sounds like Cars and looks like A Bug's Life. Both performed admirably in their delivery, but don't expect the same or anything deeper with this mildly enjoyable but predictable Summer flick. Turbo is rated PG and has a runtime of 96 minutes.
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