Here’s a first – when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lets the Turtles be teenaged guys, the film is strikingly funny and even, at times, endearing. When the story takes over it gets boring really quickly.
The biggest problem with TMNT is that its writers – Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec and Evan Daughtery – want everything to connected and tied up with a neat little bow. Thus, while the Turtles origin remains pretty much intact, the mutagen that’s responsible for their mutation was invented by April O’Neill’s (Megan Fox) father and it was she who saved them from the fire that destroyed her father’s lab and sent them into the sewer. And, by the way, Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), who was her father’s partner, has connections to both April and the film’s villain, Shredder (Tohoru Masamune).
There’s a fairly standard plot – the bad guys plan to unleash a toxic stew on the city of New York and then provide the cure for a price (stupid money and control of the city), and the Turtles turn out to be the only real obstacle in their path – and it’s executed with ponderous precision.
April’s efforts to become something more than the human interest (read: fluff pieces) reporter for Channel 6 lead her to the Turtles as she investigates a crime spree by the Foot Clan (no longer ninjas, but a mercenary force). Her efforts to get her editor (Whoopi Goldberg) to believe her get her fired, but being the movie’s plucky heroine, she soldiers on – dragging cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) along with her.
Other than one terrific action sequence – let’s call it the snow chase – and the behavior of the Turtles when they interact with each other and April, TMNT is just another ho-hum action movie. Even goosing the Turtles’ abilities (by giving them super-strength) just feels wrong. They’re mutant turtles with ninja skills, who are teenagers (but that doesn’t mean they can’t have adult conversations). Giving them super-strength just seems kinda pointless.
And Shredder? Wotta maroon! Wotta ultra-maroon! Whoever designed his armor clearly had porcupines bubbling under his subconscious – the guy sprouts more blades than an army of Swiss army knives. It’s amazing that he can move at all with all that hardware weighing him down. Plus, the guy is clearly a genius at creating evil overlord plans.
After giving the filmmakers points for making Mikey, Donny, Leo and Raph likable guys who feel like real teenagers, and creating one really fresh, original chase sequence – and allowing for decent performances from Fox and Arnett – then subtracting the number of yawns the film spawned through the rest of the film (and factoring in the fact that my big drink was gone well before we reached the ‘epic’ conclusion), I have to say that TMNT was possibly the biggest disappointment of the summer.
Think about it – when was the last time you saw an action movie that was more interesting when nothing much was happening? That’s what we have here. It would have been better if TMNT had been uniformly awful, but signs of intelligent life behind the scenes only makes its sheer mediocrity all the more frustrating.
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Photo by Industrial Light & Magic/Courtesy of Paramount Pictures