2015, no MPAA rating, 93
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.
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.
only he could be just like him some day?
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.
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.
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.
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.