The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The very concept of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles inspires one of two reactions: you either roll your eyes or you smile. I've always smiled. The unapologetic goofiness of the characters is fun, and just different enough to put a unique spin on the superhero idea. Back in 1990, the Turtles hit the big screen, with actors in costumes. The new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles expertly uses modern CGI technology to create them. That turns out to be a bit of a mixed bag, though, since the “better” effects come with a cost.

The film is more or less a retelling of the Turtles' origin story. An evil organization known as The Foot Clan is wreaking havoc all through New York City. Their leader, the mysterious metallic samurai known as Shredder, has an evil plan that he's in the middle of carrying out. Megan Fox plays April O'Neil, a TV reporter who stumbles into one of their crime scenes and witnesses some unusual vigilantes coming in to stop them. To her horror, they are six-foot talking turtles. Unable to convince anyone of what she's seen, April turns to Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), her late father's partner in science. Doing so puts her in danger, so the Turtles emerge from their sewer home to help her and stop Shredder. Will Arnett co-stars as Vernon Fenwick, April's cameraman, who also gets pulled into the mayhem.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has moments of real fun. An extended sequence in which the Turtles, a semi-truck containing April and Vernon, and a host of Foot Clan pursuit cars careen helplessly down the side of a snowy mountain is one of the most original action sequences I've seen in years. Using their shells as sleds, the Turtles weave back and forth underneath the various vehicles, trying to prevent April from being captured or, worse, getting mangled in a bad crash. It's a very clever scene, as is the final battle with Shredder, which takes place high atop a skyscraper and involves a lot of dangling over the side. Most of the martial arts-influenced sections are well-done, too. Great care was obviously taken in choreographing the hand-to-hand fights.

The movie delivers some entertainment on the action level, and the actors are generally well cast. Ironically, the biggest flaw in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the portrayal of the Turtles themselves. When played by actors in costumes – who were incapable of doing the insane, gravity-defying things CGI creatures can do – they had real personality. Here, they are blank slates. The screenplay doesn't do much to distinguish them as individuals or to mine their distinct characteristics, because it's far more interested in thrusting them into over-the-top physical challenges. Consequently, they have a tendency to get lost in their own movie. A big part of their enduring appeal is that they are like brothers. They dig pizza and girls, and sometimes they bicker at each other. That sort of thing is minimized here, turning the Turtles into something far more generic than they really ought to be. Only the color of their masks separates them.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is also hampered by a simplistic, been-there-done-that plot and some distractingly gratuitous product placement. (It's debatable which gets more closeups: Pizza Hut boxes or Megan Fox's posterior.) In the end, the movie, directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans), goes down easily enough, yet leaves you wanting a lot more than you get. Anyone enthusiastic about seeing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie – and I include myself in this group – wants to see the characters they've grown fond of having an exciting adventure. This film has the adventure, but glosses over the characters who are ostensibly the selling point. The 1990 version and 2007's animated TMNT are both better representations of what makes the Peter Laird/Kevin Eastman creation popular.

( 1/2 out of four)

Note: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is showing in both 2D and 3D. While certain sequences were clearly designed for 3D, large sections of the film involve nothing more than people in rooms talking. It ends up being a mixed bag, although two action scenes in the final half hour may make it worth the upgrade for fans of the format.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.

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