Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

New York City TV news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is assigned feel-good, fluff news stories; but she wants to break into hard news and is trying to make her mark with stories about a recent crime wave caused by the criminal gang known as the Foot Clan.  Her videographer Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) wishes April would be patient and wait for her chance.  He also wishes she would go out with him on a date.  While driving through the city in the TV station van, April and Vern notice people running out of the subways in panic.  April goes into the subway and is quickly captured by the Foot Clan.  Soon the lights go out as a train passes and four vigilantes begin fighting the Foot Clan soldiers.  Quickly dispatching the bad guys, the four disappear as fast as they arrived.  April sees they have gone up a temporary ventilation shaft and follows it out of the subway.  Climbing a fire escape to the top of a nearby building, April sees the four vigilantes celebrating their victory and she takes a picture with her phone.  The flash alerts the four and they quickly grab April.  She sees the four vigilantes are in fact six-foot tall, walking on two legs and talking…turtles.  The apparent leader is Leonardo (motion capture by Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville) and his fellow turtles are Raphael (motion capture and voiced by Alan Ritchson), Donatello (motion capture and voiced by Jeremy Howard) and Michelangelo (motion capture and voiced by Noel Fisher).  Hearing the names brings back a memory of her late father, a research scientist, and the experiments he was doing on box turtles and a rat when April was a child.  After the turtles erase the photo from the phone and leave, April goes back to her apartment and digs out boxes containing her father’s research notes and sees the names of the turtles in the experiment were named Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo; four painters from the Renaissance.  April’s father’s partner in the research was Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) who had gone on to be a very successful businessman and a benefactor of the New York City police department.  April visits Sacks and asks about the experiments.  Sacks tells April their work was to develop a mutagen that would initiate healing on the cellular level but all the research and test animals were destroyed in a fire at the lab.  April tells Sacks about the turtles; letting him know she saved the animals from the fire and set them free in the sewers.  Sacks is delighted with the news and after April leaves, Sacks goes to his sensei, a martial arts master named Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) to tell him about the turtles.  Shredder is the head of the Foot Clan and he and Sacks have diabolical plans for New York City.  The discovery of the turtles means a plan 15 years in the making can finally come to fruition.
 
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” started life as a dark alternative comic.  When it transitioned to Saturday morning cartoons, the turtles were sweetened up for a kid’s audience; however, the core fans of those original comic books remained loyal and supported the Turtles in nearly all their candy-coated forms.  Now, Michael Bay’s production company has brought the Turtles into the 21st century using modern motion capture and digital images to make the Turtles as real looking as possible.  Sadly the film, despite not being directed by Bay, has many of the same faults and weaknesses of his “Transformers” series.
 
First and foremost, the film will make you feel like you’re watching a child who is excellent at martial arts but suffers from ADHD.  The movie bounces around and quick-cuts from one action scene to the next and has so much camera movement during the action that it makes it nearly impossible to keep up with what’s going on.  Those who easily become motion sick should probably stay away as your eyes will be moving from point to point in an effort to keep up and you could easily become nauseated.  One action scene in particular, involving some SUV’s and a tractor trailer careening down a snowy hillside, made for particularly annoying viewing.  All the bumpy camera work and frenetic sound effects made the scene nearly unwatchable (along with some events that struck me as particularly ridiculous).  
 
The human characters in the film are very two dimensional.  Each does what their character requires to move the plot along and no one seems to change or grow as the film progresses.  Megan Fox, lovely as ever, is the plucky reporter who always manages to get herself caught up in some trouble and requires saving.  If she’s supposed to be a role model for young women she fails miserably as the heroes, all male, come through in the clutch.  While she does provide a pivotal bit of action near the end of the film, it doesn’t undo the damsel in distress that comes before.  Will Arnett becomes a combination of annoying and creepy as he begins to express his unrequited love for April when she isn’t around.  Also, making Arnett a possible love interest for Fox is horrible casting.  Arnett is miscast in the role in general.  He’s so out of place as the videographer as to make him distracting when he is shown doing his job.  A younger and/or unknown actor would have made a far better choice for the role.  William Fichtner is slimy even before we know he’s working with the bad guys.  His insincerity oozes from every pore as he makes an impassioned speech about protecting the city.  His evil turn wouldn’t have been a surprise even if we didn’t see it in the trailer since his general demeanor signals his character’s true motivations.  The only characters who are interesting are the CGI ones.  The four turtles each are given their comedic moments as well as their heroic ones.  The notion of the four being teenagers is a bit blown up by the voices.  Johnny Knoxville and Alan Ritchson don’t sound particularly like teens.  Their character’s behavior also goes against that notion.  Leonardo is a strong and patient leader while Raphael is a hot head who doesn’t like to be bossed around and plans on heading out on his own one day.  I suppose Raphael is closer in his behavior to a teen but the performance feels more like a jealous co-worker angered because someone else got a promotion and not the impatience of youth.  Both Donatello and Michelangelo are largely comic relief with the former’s obsession with April and the latter’s intelligence which cascades into nerdiness.
 
The best part of the film is easily the special effects.  The turtles and their leader Splinter, a rat who was part of the same experiments, all look very real and three-dimensional.  Unlike the animatronic faces of the first live action “TMNT” movies, there is nothing mechanical about the facial expressions or movements of these turtles.  There was some controversy about the design of the faces as some fans objected to the look of the nose on the characters but this was only a minor flare up.  The life-like CGI gives the characters a rather friendly appearance once you get past the initial shock.  The action scenes are shot with so much camera movement it’s difficult to tell if the characters look good in those scenes or not.  One particular scene, involving a tractor trailer and three SUV’s careening down a snowy mountainside, suffers from movement over-kill.  The scene, which probably contains more CGI elements than most, looks flat and unfinished.  All the spinning camera work and the flailing characters make the images look almost fuzzy.  There are times when the film wants us to revel in the excellence of a stunt so the movie will pop into slow motion for a few seconds so we can see every detail.  These brief respites only make the rest of the scene that much more disappointing.
 
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.  There is a great deal of martial arts battles using swords, staffs, nunchuks and sai.  The bad guys use automatic weapons while Shredder is decked out in full body armor with spring-loaded blades he can shoot out at enemies.  There is a great deal of kicking, spinning, jumping and punching along with the use of weapons.  There is no blood or gore.  We see a character fall from a great height and slam into the pavement.  There may have been on or two bad words spoken but otherwise foul language is not an issue.
 
Young children seem to love this movie.  The audience I saw the film with was about 30% kids and, while there was more talking and crying than I’m used to hearing at most movies, they seemed to be largely into the action and characters but bored when it was just talking between the non-CGI people.  As the audience filed out after the movie, I heard more than a few “That was great!” in various versions.  Ah, the ignorance of youth.  The movie isn’t great.  It is in fact, far from it.  Other than some funny banter between the turtles and mostly very good CGI, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is a loud, hyperactive bore.  While the film is only 101 minutes long, it feels sooooo much longer.  Perhaps in the inevitable sequel we’ll be able to skip all the origin stuff and move on to the action and humor a little more quickly; however, the two-dimensional human characters and a fairly predictable story will probably also be in the mix.
 
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” gets two guitars out of five.
 
Three new movies open this week and it’s up to you to tell me which I’ll see and review.
 
The Expendables 3—Barney (Stallone), Christmas (Statham) and the rest of the team comes face-to-face with Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), an old friend turned enemy.
 
The Giver—Based on Lois Lowry’s beloved novel, THE GIVER centers on a young man living in a seemingly ideal world of conformity. As he begins to discover the dark truths of his community’s past, he realizes he must escape to protect those he loves.
 
Let’s Be Cops—A pair of buddies hatch a plan to impersonate police officer but soon find themselves way in over their heads.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews and film of his choice currently in theatres or streaming.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
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