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Movie Review: “Turbo”

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“Whoa, that snail is fast!”

At least that’s the exact sentiment from a viral, “YouTube” video within the kid’s movie “Turbo,” the newest endeavor from DreamWorks

Ryan Reynolds prvides the voice for Theo/Turbo in "Turbo"

What are they growing in that garden? The answer: organic tomatoes.

Animation, which is about – you guessed it – a super-fast garden snail.

So, now you know that the film’s protagonist is a snail that travels quite a bit faster than his fellow shrub-grubbing, slime-trailing terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusks. However, the “what” is not the fun part of “Turbo.”

It’s the “how” that happens to be the pertinent information regarding “Turbo.”

Of course, like any other movie worth its salt (get it? salt… and snails? – cue rim shot), “Turbo” gives the audience the necessary “where” and “why” as well. However, these are just mere formalities in this fun, fast-paced (that’s two – cue rim shot) romp that goes everywhere from suburban gardens to concrete strip malls to asphalt raceway and takes you there – at a snail’s pace (man, I’m on a roll – cue rim shot, once again).

The thing is… this snail happens to go around 200 miles/per hour.

Even though the premise of a snail the goes THAT fast is a fairly innovative one, there are quite a number of cinematic influences that “Turbo” has borrowed bits and pieces from.

For instance, in the first scene of the film, we are introduced to a common garden snail named Theo. However, instead of doing what a garden snail is supposed to do (harvesting and eating leaves and tomatoes), Theo (voiced by the charming, as always, Ryan Reynolds) -who wants all of his fellow snails to call him by his nickname, “Turbo”- likes to sit around an old, dusty garage and watch old videocassettes of French-Canadian, Formula 1 champion racecar driver Guy Gagne (voiced by an uncharacteristically boring Bill Hader).

In fact, Theo is so into racing that he has adorned his shell with a “Number 5″ sticker and checkered flags made out of used crossword and sudoku puzzles. Theo also has a slightly overweight and critical brother named Chet (another solid performance by the dependable Paul Giamatti), who likes to remind him how he is wasting his life (“What life?” Theo asks) by watching AND emulating what he sees on that stack of old VCR tapes.

“No dream is too big. No dreamer is too small,” says Guy Gagne during a victory speech from one of the races on one of Theo’s amassed tape collection.

If this all sounds familiar to you, well it should. It’s eerily similar to the opening scenes of another story in which a small-sized creature dreams of making it big within the world of humans – the 2007 Disney/Pixar film, “Ratatouille.” But, this time, it’s a snail that wants to race, not a rat that wants to cook.

And therein lies the biggest problem with “Turbo” – the filmmakers simply borrow too much from other films and fail to create an identity all of their own. Throughout the film, little bits and pieces from films like “Rookie of the Year,” “Talladega Nights” and “Wreck-It Ralph” can also be detected. But, let’s be frank, “Turbo” is not the first film to take another movie’s ideas and run with them. In fact, every movie (especially in the animated/children’s genre) has a little bit of plagiarism in it. What’s that famous saying again? – “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

Well in the case of “Turbo,” a lot of moviemakers are going to be “flattered” while watching this film.

In various parts throughout the film, “Turbo” borrows from such obvious animated films as, “Antz” (with the way their jobs are reminiscent of how human’s work, etc.), “A Bug’s Life,” and even “Toy Story” – with the inclusion of a sadistic, sunglass-wearing little boy on a tricycle with the nickname of “Shell Crusher,” who drives around the garden looking for snail’s shells to… well… you know the rest. It reminded me of that creepy little bastard from the first “Toy Story” movie, Sid – i.e. the one that experiments on dolls, like a cross between Jeffery Dahmer and Dr. Frankenstein.

That being said, Sid was WAAY more threatening (and creepy) than the Shell Crusher character, but Shell Crusher’s job wasn’t to strike fear into the audience. Sid was the primary antagonist from “Toy Story,” while Shell Crusher is just an excuse to set-up an early test for Theo. I won’t spoil one of the more entertaining sequences from the first act, but I will say this. The character of Shell Crusher represents an excuse for Theo to run away from the disapproving eyes of his fellow snails (especially his brother Chet) and his responsibilities at the garden “work site” to try to search to find meaning in his life.

So an embarrassed and misunderstood Theo wanders the streets of Los Angeles and eventually finds himself on a freeway overpass staring at the fast-moving automobiles down below. Due to an (un)fortunate series of

Turbo wishes he was fast in "Turbo"

I wonder what snails throw from an overpass. Oh yeah, slime.

accidental events, Theo somehow winds up in the L.A. River and onto the hood of a souped-up car and straight into a scene from “Fast and the Furious.” Again, a series of (un)fortunate accidents occur and Theo is no longer ON the car, but INSIDE the car – where he winds up within the car’s fuel injection system. When the driver finally presses the “nitrous oxide” button, all of the NO2 fluid permeates the little snail’s body and becomes a permanent part of his DNA structure – in a fantastically creative, Tron-like sequence (especially in 3D).

It’s official. Theo will now be officially referred to as “Turbo.”

That is, everybody except his Debbie Downer-esque brother Chet, who goes out of his way to call him Theo. And that’s the message and theme that lies at the heart of this film – no one loves you like family. Okay, that and the fact that the whole movie can be looked at as one, big metaphor for ADHD, as the whole time I had to endure every child in the theater not being able to sit still for more than five seconds and that includes one little girl who would literally run-in-place during every racing scene. But, that’s okay. I guess that means that kids were into it, which is kind of the whole point, right?

Back to the whole brotherly love thing – see, when Turbo wakes up after being spit out by the hooked-up Honda – with the rad spoiler, neon lights, and 20-inch rims – he realizes he has special car-like powers. I get the whole nitrous in the bloodstream thing might make him fast, I mean, Peter Parker got bit by a radioactive spider and attained arachnid-like powers, but Turbo’s “powers” border on the ridiculous. However, it does make for a funny scene, when Turbo accidentally backs his shell up to the wall – only to activate the auditory nightmare of a standard car alarm.

And don’t forget his eyes, which are now headlights (complete with highbeams). Or, the fact that he can now channel the spirit of Clear Channel – in other words, he randomly emits songs from his shell from such artists as Run DMC and Tom Jones – sort of like an iShell, of some sort. See, I told you, ridiculous. But, oh how the kids around me found it funny. So, I guess to the audience that matters, it’s more hilarious than ridiculous.

Anyway, so after Turbo notices THOSE powers, he SLOWLY makes his way back to the garden work site. After a showdown with “Shell Crusher,” where he teaches that snail-killing kid a lesson (well, a lesson that snails that can travel at 200 mph really do exist), he comes to the realization that his life-long dream to “go fast” has come true…. and that every snail in the garden is jealous of him and hates him for it, even his brother. But after a crow snatches his bro off the ground in one crow-like swoop, Turbo has to rescue him, which leads to the first cinematic car chase involving a crow and a snail.

Finally, Turbo teaches that crow a lesson (maybe “lesson-teaching” is the actual theme here), the brothers find themselves in an unfamiliar territory… and are immediately scooped up off the ground by a hefty Mexican boy in a bright yellow named Tito (voiced by Michael Pena) with a plastic cup, where they are transported – by a “Dos Brothers” taco vending truck, no less – to an underground snail race at the Starlight Shopping Plaza in beautiful Van Nuys.

Yes, that is correct. I said “underground snail race” – which, I guess, is very popular in beautiful Van Nuys and NOWHERE ELSE. But, I digress. So, Turbo and Chet are placed into a snail race with a bunch of “professional” racing snails – whose owners include a group of racially and socioeconomically balanced characters (voiced by Richard Jenkins, Michelle Rodriguez  – who apparently has to be in EVERY movie about racing- and Ken Jeong - who apparently has to play THE Asian stereotype in every movie) – where Turbo proceeds to kick all of their asses, while attracting the money-hungry gaze of Tito – whose intentions are noble, but whose marketing ideas suck.

He also gains the attention of the crew of professional racing snails – who, may I add, are also racially balanced… I guess. This “extreme” group of

The starting line at the Snail Race in "Turbo"

On your mark, get set….

daredevil snails are pretty much the most entertaining part of the film. Samuel L. Jackson provides a typically grandiose performance as the off-his-rocker Whiplash, while characters like Smoov Move (voiced by the new and improved, now kid-friendly Snoop Dogg), Burn (Maya Rudolph), Skidmark (Ben Schwartz) and the cape-wearing, hefty-sized White Shadow (Mike Bell), who will instantly become the audience’s favorite, due to his incessant uttering of the phrase, “white shadow,” wherever he goes. Oh, and he also says the word “barbecue” for no apparent reason at one point. He’s pretty funny. NO, I’m not being sarcastic.

Anyway, back to the Tito and his grandiose plans for Turbo, which include helping his brother Angelo (the inherently brilliant Luis Guzman - who’s been playing the same role since “Carlito’s Way” in 1993) put his “Dos Brothers” taco stand (not to mention the owners of the other three businesses of Starlight Plaza – a hobby shop, a nail salon and an auto shop – see… balanced) on the map.

Angelo and Tito’s relationship, of course, mirrors the relationship that Turbo and Chet have, as both of the rational brothers are convinced their brothers are slackers/dreamers. This is where the brotherly love vibe really comes into play, as Tito wants to enter Turbo in the Indy 500 (which, for the record, is really Turbo’s idea, but let’s not get technical) and both older brothers – Angelo and Chet – think it’s a BAD idea.

To make a snail story short, Tito steals his brother’s “Dos Tacos” truck, takes Turbo, Chet, the other racing snails, and – his investors – the three store owners (pretty much everyone except Angelo) to Indianapolis for the big race.

Well, I don’t have to tell you what happens, but just know that Ricky Bobby… I mean, Turbo finally meets his idol Jean Girard… I mean Guy Gagne – who turns out to be arrogant and self-serving (in other words, French-Canadian – ooh, low blow), but in the meantime, some kid with a phone records Turbo’s trial race and Turbo becomes a media sensation. Now, all eyes are on the Turbo (as well as his sponsors – Dos Brothers Tacos, the nail salon, the garage, and the hobby shop) as the big race ensues. All’s well that ends well, as everything is eventually wrapped-up in a tight, little bow, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It IS an animated movie for kids, after all. And “Turbo” is a more-than-adequate entry into the annals of animated movies. I mean, it’s not as good as “Wall-E” or “Up,” but it’s not that bad, either.

Plus, the kids in the audience absolutely LOVED it (as well as some grown-ups, too), as clapping and cheering was pretty much commonplace during the film’s big end sequence. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve seen an audience (even if they were kids) get this emotionally-invested in a film’s conclusion.

So, at the end, all of the brothers love each other and admit their faults, the investors/shop owners recoup their money and jumpstart their

"Turbo" movie poster

Somebody better test this little guy for snail PED’s or SGH (Snail Growth Hormone).

businesses and Turbo gets to go fast. Even the group of weirdo racing snails get what they want (in some odd, strange, kids movie way). The filmmakers (First-time director David Soren, as well as screenwriters Soren, Darren Lemke of “Jack the Giant Slayer” fame, and “The Wrestler” scribe Robert D. Siegel) even manage to set things up for a sequel at the very end, as well, and all is well within the world of “Turbo” – right?

Well, it depends. There is a little matter of a despicable super-villain named Gru and his group of banana-colored/ banana-loving minions that stand in the way of “Turbo” and his buddies’ box-office success.

We’ll just have to check back after this weekend to see if Gru and company are left saying…

“Whoa, that snail is fast!” And hopefully successful, too.

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