A film review by Craig J. Koban October 9, 2015

RANK: 25

TURBO KID jjj
½   

2015, no MPAA rating, 93 mins.

 

Munro Chambers as The Kid  /  Laurence Leboeuf as Apple  /  Michael Ironside as Zeus  /  Aaron Jeffery as Frederic  /  Edwin Wright as Skeletron

Written and directed by François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell

TURBO KID is an infectiously enjoyable love ballad to 1980’s pop culture schlock and cheese.  

And, boy, does it ever go down well.  

The brainchild of Canadian directors Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell, the film wears its excessive nostalgic flavor like a deliriously proud badge of honor and never looks back nor apologizes for it.  TURBO KID is a “kitchen sink” mish-mash in that everything but…ya know…has been thrown into it, but somehow it all manages to flow together with reasonable fluidity.  Imagine a Regan-era Saturday morning cartoon morphed with low B-grade BMX bike cult movies further crossed with the post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror films of that era and you kind of have a rough idea of what TURBO KID is aiming for.  As a work of pure sandbox cinema, the film packs an exuberant amount of refreshingly old school, retro-futuristic eccentricities that never once mocks its targets; instead, it pays loving homage to its inspirations with ample visual cleverness and a childlike imagination. 

As a voice over track reveals early in the film, “This is the future.  This is 1997.”  The fact that TURBO KID is a set in the past-future, so to speak, is ultimately telling and helps to reinforce the whole enterprise as an endearing wink to the cinema of a bygone era when cheap, disposable, but wickedly agreeable cult films lined the VHS shelves of many a video store.  In this version of the late 90’s the world has been decimated by what’s assumed to be a massive nuclear war, leaving it a violent and oppressive MAD MAX inspired wasteland.  Very few survivors remain, but one, The Kid (Munro Chambers), tries to eek out an existence by being a scavenger on his cherished BMX bike.  The Kid, like most…kids from the 1980’s…worships super heroes and comic books, his favorite being TURBO RIDER, a character that he excitedly emulates when playing around in his underground bunker.  

Hmmm…if only he could be just like him some day? 

 

 

The Kid survives by trading odds and ends with whomever he can, all while trying to evade the hostile, world dominating forces of Zeus (Michael Ironside) and his second in command, the awesomely named Skeletron (Edwin Wright).  When things begin to look very grim for our post-nuclear adolescent hero, The Kid finds himself befriended by Apple (Laurence Leboeuf), a young women that looks like she just stepped out of the 80’s exercise video.  Apple is aggressively chipper…an almost constant beacon of good vibes…which may or may not have something to do with the fact that she’s a programmed android.  Nevertheless, The Kid and Apple become close companions, during which time the former manages to find a – gasp! – Turbo Rider costume, complete with a Nintendo Power Glove-like hand blaster.  Decked out with his newfound threads, The Kid and Apple step up to the plate to become the ultimate freedom-fighting symbol of the wasteland to take down the oppressive Zeus once and for all. 

As a child of the 1980’s, I smiled an awful lot all the way through TURBO KID.  This film understands and acknowledges its audience so much throughout its running time that it becomes really hard to not become enamored with it.  You can sense the unbridled love that the makers have here for the pop culture of the period they’re invested in, something that’s driven home very early in the film when you hear its awesome movie era specific synth-heavy music score and especially when it uses a cover version of “Thunder in You Heart” (from the actual BMX movie RAD) to punctuate our introduction of The Kid pedaling his own bike through the wasteland.  It also serves to typify the overall tone that TURBO KID is aiming for right from the get-go: an energetic and self-aware valentine to kitschy TV, movies, and games that Gen Xers gorged on as children.  Anyone, for that matter, that has a passionate enthusiasm for 80’s culture will come out of TURBO KID accepting its highly pleasurable pastiche of the period’s most iconic troupes. 

TURBO KID, true to its many sources of inspiration, looks appropriately “cheap” without coming off as a cheap production, which is a tricky dichotomy to pull off.  Unlike so many modern sci-fi films (even bargain basement ones), TURBO KID has a wonderfully immersive tactile look and feel; CGI and pixelized fakery are used at a bare minimum and only when required.  The film never has the appearance, though, of an unintentionally shoddy production.  The wonderfully playful and vibrant costume design by Eric Poirier gives TURBO KID an evocative lived-in aura, not to mention Jean-Philippe Bernier’s thankless cinematography, which makes terrific usage of the film's barren and desolate landscapes.  The film’s action beats are memorably chaotic and insidiously gory.  One in particular, during which time The Kid and Apple square off against a horde of Zeus’ men in a drained out swimming pool, is executed with a straightforward clarity that many modern action films with twenty times the budget sometimes fail at.  TURBO KID may be conjuring up a kaleidoscope of my childhood memories, but this film sure ain’t for kids and would more than earn an R rating (if the MPAA rated it) for the carnage displayed on screen. 

TURBO KID’s overall aesthetic is complimented by its tone perfect performances by most of the lead actors.  Too much self-congratulatory and self-deprecating smugness from them would have proven overbearing, whereas performances too sincere would have acted as a distracting counterbalance to the whole film’s vibe.  Somehow, Chambers and Leboeuf manage to understand the type of film they’re occupying and play things relatively straight throughout, which actually helps to accentuate the comedy that much more.  Chambers brings a believable wide-eyed earnestness that suits his character well and helps ground the overt outlandishness that surrounds him, and Leboeuf acts as a sprightly foil to him in her wickedly droll turn as the perpetually hyperactive, gnome stick carrying robot that displays endless cheerfulness even during the most potentially dangerous encounters.   Michael Ironside, rather appropriately, plays his nefarious protagonist like he just stepped out of a time warp and off of the set of a science fiction/action film from 30 years ago.  He neither overplays his baddie to egregious levels, nor underplays him to the point of it coming off as phoned in work. 

TURBO KID is an electrifyingly giddy blast of retro imagination and style, a film that displays its animated spirit with as much fervor as its thrill seeking teen hero.  It wholeheartedly delivers as a sci-fi action comedy with a contagiously unfiltered love of the past.  On a negative, though, the film’s ultra violence – albeit initially absurd and subversively and hilariously over-the-top – grows a bit numbing as the film moves on.  The makers take great pains to show kills in all sorts of painfully grotesque fashions – from severed heads, to disembowelments, to multiple amputations…every horrific death is replete with artery spewing geysers of blood and brain matter.  The intention here, I guess, is to acknowledge the hyper violence of action cinema of decades past, but TURBO KID sort of embellishes it with too much sadistic obsession at times.  Nevertheless, the film still emerges as hugely engaging throwback fever dream that was hard to wake up from up.  The film, to take a page out of well-used 1980’s vernacular, is pretty damn rad. 

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