Movie Review – Turbo Kid (Sydney Film Festival 2015)

EXPECTATIONS:  A rollicking fun time.

REVIEW: Replicating films of a past age can be a tricky business. Especially films that are meant to be throwbacks or so-bad-it’s-good films. The thing about those types of films is that they genuinely become that way due to enthusiasm and honesty from the cast and crew and how to convey those two on screen, without any sense of irony or winking whatsoever. It is incredibly hard to capture that kind of feeling and many films have tried and failed on that account. Films like Machete Kills (2013) failed miserably due to replicating so-bad-it’s-good films that it just ended up being plain bad; and the modern Grindhouse (2007) films just smack of tongue-in-cheekiness and inspiration-mocking that it becomes tiring and annoying. But there are films that successfully achieve that feeling like Black Dynamite (2009), the Jean Dujardin OSS 117 films (2006, 2009), Manborg (2013) or even the short film Kung Fury (2014) and others. And it is with great pleasure to say that Turbo Kid belongs on that list.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world of 1997(?), a loner comic book fan known as The Kid (Munro Chambers) lives his life in The Wasteland scavenging scraps for food and the occasional comic book, particularly a comic called Turbo Rider. He then meets (or bumps into) a mysterious and overly optimistic girl called Apple (Laurence Laboeuf) and the two bond over time. Meanwhile, the leader of The Wasteland, Zeus (Michael Ironside) ends up interfering the two (and maybe an interference too far with The Kid than he realizes) and Apple gets kidnapped. Realizing that The Kid needs to man up, he finds a suit resembling his comic book hero and he dons the suit, becoming…well you get my drift. The supporting cast that help or oppose Turbo Kid are Frederic, a cowboy with a bad attitude and an Australian accent (?) and Skeletron, Zeus’ silent but deadly right hand man, who dons a metal mask and a saw as his weapon of choice.

So you got a typical plot of boy meets girl, girl gets kidnapped, boy saves girl, end of story. But it is within that framework that the crew of the film shine in their attention to detail, a sense of giddy fun that is infectious and colourful characters that are gloriously brought to life by the actors. Munro Chambers is appropriately wide-eyed and heroic as The Kid, as his gradual growth out of his bubble from a shy survivor to a superhero is well-portrayed. Michael Ironside has played many tough guys (Starship Troopers for one) and a few villains (Total Recall) that he can do a role like in Turbo Kid in his sleep. Although I can’t say for sure due to that eye patch of his, he does a sense of liveliness that I haven’t seen from him in a while and he savors the screen-time he’s in as Zeus. His plan for providing water to The Wasteland is sadistically genius that I can’t believe that no one came up with it earlier. Aaron Jeffery is charismatic and tough as Frederic, who brings zest to his one-liners and is quite reminiscent of Ash in Evil Dead. Speaking of Evil Dead, a prop in the film would bring a smile to people who know what it is in reference to. And that prop belongs to the best character in the movie, Apple, portrayed by Laurence Laboeuf. This type of overly optimistic character could have potentially ruined the movie if one would approach it the wrong way but Laboeuf miraculously makes her funny, wholesome and quite frankly, understandable that The Kid would want to rescue her. She’s so lovable and sweet that she’s the emotional centre of the film. I can’t believe I said the word “emotional” in a movie like this, but it’s true.

But that’s what makes the movie transcend its conventions and become something great. Other than the contributions of the actors, the directors also deserve credit for the world they have built. The music is pure John Carpenter-like 80’s, complete with synthesizer, MIDI sounds and of course, songs that came out in the 80’s. The costumes and sets are appropriately grimy and primitive, but they are also surprisingly colourful at times, most likely from the cinematography by Jean-Philippe Bernier, who’s also one of the directors AND composers. The CGI looks great when used (the Power Glove is awesome) and the practical gore effects a spectacular sight to behold. They reminded me of cult classic Japanese films like The Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police, where the gore would be so over-the-top, that it’s laughable.

But there are flaws (more like nitpicks, really) that prevent it from being a truly perfect viewing experience. For a movie called “Turbo Kid”, the pacing does take quite a bit to get going that it might have you wondering when is the Turbo going to come. The low budget shows at times, for example, the gravelly setting looks exactly the same despite the different buildings and props and not all of the jokes work. But Turbo Kid is a heck of a fun ride that has a gritty, bloody outside but a bubblegum sugary sweet core. And that is rare nowadays.

Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastically portrayed characters (Apple is a highlight)

Practical effects and music are right on the money

Genuine enthusiasm from cast and crew is contagious

CONS

Pacing and budget issues

Not all jokes work

SCORE: 8/10

NOTE: Thanks to the Sydney Film Festival for screening the film.

Cast: Munro Chambers, Laurence Leboeuf, Aaron Jeffery, Edwin Wright, Romano Orzari, Michael Ironside

Directors-Screenwriters: Anouk Whissell, François Simard, Yoann-Karl Whissell

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