New York City is under attack by a heavily armed gang of thieves called the Foot Clan, and while they’ve been happy committing a string of robberies their villainous leader, Shredder, has plans for something for more deadly. The city’s only hope rests with a quartet of ninja warriors who also happen to be obnoxious, horny, anthropomorphic turtles.
April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is a NYC fluff reporter who longs for a big story, the kind that matters, and she thinks she’s found it when she witnesses one of the turtles successfully interrupting a Foot Clan robbery. Her investigation reveals the truth behind the turtles, Shredder’s plans and why she’s been stuck doing puff pieces her entire career. (They’re mutants! He’s hungry for murder! She’s not that bright!)
There are several questions raised by the big-screen reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The vast majority of them involve idiotic plot turns, continuity errors, who exactly the film is made for and what the screenwriters have against their dads, but one question stands out among all the rest.
Could this entire movie be part of producer Michael Bay‘s elaborate and expensive revenge plan against Megan Fox?
“April’s arrived early this year.”
The film begins promising enough with an animated intro that deftly lays out the film’s setup including the turtles’ origin premise, and for a brief moment you feel like maybe, just maybe, there might be some smarts behind it after all. Just as quickly though the live action kicks in and it becomes clear that the film is aiming for an even younger demographic than expected. It does this primarily by not giving a good goddamn whether or not the film works.
The four turtles — somewhat monstrous-looking CGI creations — have distinct characteristics to help identify them on the fly, but they’re minor at best and add nothing to their non-existent characters. Leo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville) is the group’s de facto leader, Raph (Alan Ritchson) is the big brawler, Don (Jeremy Howard) is a science geek and Mike (Noel Fisher) is an immature horn-dog unfazed by the crass, biologically suspect idea of him boning April.
The story, such as it is, is a generic rehash of plots from other, better movies boiled down to the bare essence of super blood and a ticking clock. Toss in multiple characters with daddy issues and a recurring theme that everyone (and everything) wants to have sex with April and you have a movie with vaguely adult themes yet still aimed at the youngest of movie-goers. After initially thinking the film has bypassed the need for an explanatory origin story we’re given one anyway as Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub) shares a vague explanation as to how they went from lab animals to bipedal ninjas — although he neglects to explain how they learned to speak English (or at all), make steel weaponry and hide their giant turtle phalluses.
Very few of the jokes and gags work, and the handful that do usually stem from Will Arnett as April’s cameraman sidekick. It’s a thankless role requiring only that he wisecrack and ogle Fox’s ass, but he’s a nice break from the bland mayhem around him. William Fichtner, usually the highlight of any film he’s in, is given far less to play with and is essentially wasted.
That bland mayhem is ultimately the film’s biggest problem. This was never going to be a smart film or a fresh take on four rap-loving, crime-fighting reptiles. But sometimes pure fun, both comedically and action-wise, can make up for utter stupidity. No such luck here though as the action scenes — with a singular exception — are the epitome of CGI boredom. Fights are constructed with maximum information but minimal clarity meaning we’re seeing a lot yet comprehending very little. Some of the action is slowed down, but it’s to allow for expressions or moments of impact as opposed to acuity.
The one exception is a sequence that rivals Fast & Furious 6‘s runway chase in its disregard for physics, time and space. There’s a ten-minute chase scene consisting solely of sliding down a mountain at forty-plus miles per hour. It’s relatively exciting and yes, even fun, and finds a balance between the ridiculous and the refreshingly-choreographed as Hummers, “characters” and a semi-truck slide around, past and through each other.
Nostalgia is going to drive a lot of viewers to the theater, but it’s hard to imagine any of them walking out truly satisfied because while they’ve grown up their beloved characters have seemingly done the opposite.
The Upside: Arnett slips a few funny bits in; mountain side slide; visual gag during end credits
The Downside: Poorly written; lacks personality; indistinct and unappealing character and action; a “hilarious” fart gag; typical Bay product placement
On the Side: Jane Levy, Anna Kendrick and Elizabeth Olsen all reportedly tested for the role of April O’Neil