There’s something mildly depressing about the glorious averageness of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
As a product, this sucker is assembly-line perfection, which is fine if you’re buying a pair of sneakers or a stereo, but for a movie, it is a little bit soul-crushing.
Think about that for a minute. We have reached a point as a society where six-foot-tall mutated turtles practiced in the art of ninjutsu are safe and generic. Maybe it is time for us to let the apes take over.
If you’ll remember correctly, the Turtles were a cultural phenomenon in the early 1990s and got the feature-film treatment three times over with a Vanilla Ice video thrown in for good measure.
The Turtles always worked best in comic-book form and in their various animated television series, but they have been resurrected for the big screen to cash in on some Gen Y nostalgia.
The four turtles — named Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael, if you’ve forgotten — are nifty digital creations, performed with motion-capture by Pete Ploszek, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, and Alan Ritchson, respectively.
The movie is a boiler-plate origin story, as the Turtles and their wise rat sensei Splinter (physically acted by Danny Woodburn, voice acted by Tony Shalhoub) tackle a crime wave in New York City perpetrated by the Foot Clan and their villainous leader Shredder (Tohoru Masamune).
The Turtles get a human ally in the form of reporter April O’Neil, played by Megan Fox, who in spite of little talent or charisma seems able to ride the train of impossible hotness as far as it will take her. Good for her.
Also in the mix in woefully underwritten supporting roles are Will Arnett, William Fichtner, and Whoopi Goldberg, who I’m sure will happily collect their paychecks and go on their way.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” was produced by Michael Bay and directed by Jonathan Liebesman, whose previous work was primarily horror movies and special effects orgies like “Battle Los Angeles” and “Wrath of the Titans.”
With the likes of these two attached, there are plenty of frantic, glossy action sequences full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But, as preposterous as the plot is, this movie is still way more coherent than any of Bay’s “Transformers” movies, so there’s that.
And to throw Bay a bone, the dude does know how to effectively use 3D; so if that sort of thing floats your boat, this is one of the rare movies actually worth the extra-dimension upgrade.
There are two instances of spark and personality that point to a much more exciting movie that could have been. The first is a spectacular action sequence that features the turtles and various humans and vehicles doing battle while sliding down the side of a snowy mountain.
The other is a little throwaway moment where the Turtles are riding an elevator to a climactic battle and our heroes break out in a spontaneous beat-box session to kill the tension. That’s the kind of thing this movie needed a whole lot more of. It’s strange to say, but “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” just isn’t weird enough.
Your movie is built around walking, talking teenage, mutant, ninja turtles for Pete’s sake. Let your freak flag fly! Maybe next time. Or the time after that.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.