Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

By: Kevin Jordan (Number9)

You are not eight.

TMNT Poster Art

My original intention for this review was to revisit my rules for when it’s okay to remake a movie.  But then I actually watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and realized it was far worse than I was expecting.  I know what you’re thinking – “it’s a movie for kids, of course you weren’t going to like it.”  First of all, that’s not fair.  I like lots of movies that were intended for kids and I’m not just talking about the obviously good ones like Toy Story or Shrek.  Second, just because a movie was made for kids doesn’t mean it has to be dumb by default.  Kids are capable of recognizing crap too (I should know – my 2-year old tells me about his crap every time).  Third, I’m in the generation that grew up loving the Ninja Turtles, especially the animated series.  Remaking this movie was just as much for my generation as it is for a new generation.  Finally, Turtles is rated PG-13, so it wasn’t aimed just at kids; it was aimed at everyone and makes it fair game for what you’re going to read in the rest of this review.  But, just so you don’t think I’m being unfair and am misunderstanding the concept of kids’ movies, here you go – if you are eight years old or younger, you will love this movie.  The kids in the audience sure did.  But, since you aren’t eight (I know this because if your parents are letting you read this, they are terrible parents) you should know that this movie is fucking embarrassing.

Just because I’m curious, let’s take a look at my remake rules again and decide if this movie should have been made at all.  For a movie to qualify for a remake, the original has to meet these specifications:

  1. It didn’t win any Oscars.  – Haha.  Be serious.
  2. It is at least 20 years old.  – Check.  Released in 1990 (and the sequels were released in ’91 and ’93).
  3. It wasn’t great.  – It was rated PG because it really was made for kids.  It was also produced by an independent film company for just $13.5 million.  Roger Ebert said “this movie is nowhere near as bad as it might have been, and probably is the best possible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie.”   It supplies, in other words, more or less what Turtle fans will expect.
  4. It wasn’t terrible.  – See number 3.
  5. The new version is really a new version.  – There are a ton of similarities, but there are major differences in main plot elements, so we’ll go ahead and say check.
  6. It doesn’t feature the flavor-of-the-month actor/actress/US Weekly headliner.  – Megan Fox might just be the exact opposite of that sentiment and the rest are people you always forget are still actors.
  7. It didn’t make a ton of money.  – Whoops.  The original was the ninth highest grossing film of 1990, pulling in a world-wide gross just under $202 million on that tiny budget of $13.5 million.  Of course, $202 million is less than an opening weekend for blockbusters these days, so this isn’t an egregious faux-pas.

Verdict:  I’ll allow it.

Having said all that, I don’t think anybody asked for a remake, especially not one from Michael Bay, who managed to alternate doing great service to Transformers, then following that up by dropping a steaming deuce on that service.  I didn’t think he’d be able to make a worse movie than Transformers: Age of Distinction, but I clearly underestimated the man’s abilities.  To be fair, Bay only helped produce the movie, so maybe I’m being a little harsh.  The real blame for this abomination lies with the director (Jonathan Liebesman) and three (THREE!?!) writers (Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Evan Daugherty).

On the surface, the movie is essentially what you expect.  Ninja Turtles, April O’Neil (Megan Fox), fighting, car chases, the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), explosions, some sort of ooze responsible for mutating the turtles and their master, Splinter (Tony Shaloub – voice; Danny Woodburn – motion capture), the foot clan, evil plot to take over the city/world.  Under the surface, the movie is lazy, poorly written, and miscast in ways both obvious and not so obvious.

(Here come the SPOILERS, but that shouldn’t be a problem since you’re not eight.)

The film begins with April trying to investigate thefts by the foot clan in an effort to prove that she is a real journalist.  After two different run-ins with the foot clan and their battles with vigilantes (the Turtles), she has evidence of the vigilantes and extensive information about the foot clan that would make for a great story.  But does her editor (the absurdly out of place, Whoopi Goldberg) believe her?  Of course not.  Does April whip out her pictures of the Turtles that are on her phone?  Of course not.  Does she have interviews or statements from any of the hostages from her last incident who also definitely saw the Turtles?  Of course not.  That would have given her credibility as a journalist, but nobody wants that – she’s Megan Fox.  Bring on the damn Turtles.

Shortly thereafter, we get the obligatory fight scene where the foot clan has orders to capture the Turtles to get the Mutagen (the ooze) and the following dumb shit happens:

  • When the clan and Shredder show up, Shredder gets into a one-on-one fight with Splinter, eventually defeating him.  Yet, it never dawns on Shredder that Splinter would also have Mutagen in him and Shredder just leaves him there for dead.
  • During the one-on-one, Splinter keeps telling the Turtles to save themselves and even closes a gate on them to keep them from helping them.  Two things here.  One, why does Splinter think five-on-one and winning is worse than one-on-one and losing?  Two, it takes three of the Turtles all of their strength to barely lift a metal gate even though earlier in the film they are flinging shipping containers around like they are nothing and later in the film will hold up the spire of a skyscraper.

After the capture of three of the Turtles, we quickly move to the next big action scene in Sacks’ laboratory where he is draining the Turtles’ blood to extract Mutagen.  The only dumb thing here is minor and not worth mentioning, but the ensuing car chase scene down the side of an Everest-ian mountain sure is.  Not only is this scene extremely difficult to watch (due to the insipid 3-D and spastic camera and animation work), but it’s supposedly occurring in a mountain range with sewer entrances that lead into Sacks’ building in Times Square.  I dare you to think of a lazier, fucktastic plot point than that.

At this point, the movie culminates in the final battle scene in which the Turtles will predictably prevail by using a crane-kick-esque movie to defeat the Transformer/Predator that is Shredder.  Just to digress for moment, the Shredder’s armor was definitely concocted by Bay.  There are scenes in which you will believe the Turtles and Splinter are fighting Megatron.  Anyway, this final sequence brings us one of the most comically bad performances in the history of film in the form of Fichtner firing a handgun.  Not only is he waving it around like a high school kid would do in a play, but the gun has no visible muzzle flash.  He might as well be yelling “bang, bang” at that point because it wouldn’t be any more absurd than the delivery of his ridiculous final diatribe.  In fact, one gunshot doesn’t even sync with his arm motion when he moves it in a firing motion.  I’m fairly certain this film had no editor.

Before I get to the final atrocities seen in the film, we need to focus a bit on the terrible casting choices and putrid dialogue.  The casting was just plain bizarre.  Megan Fox can’t act her way out of a box, but it’s not surprising to see her in a movie like this.  But what the fuck were Will Arnett and Whoopi Goldberg doing in this movie?  Goldberg has spent far too much time as a yapping hen on The View to remember what acting actual entails and Arnett is asked to make sexual advances towards Fox as often as possible, which is pretty much the opposite of what anyone wants in this movie (not to mention they ask the same thing of one of the Turtles, which is also not funny; just gross).  Even stranger is that they chose to cast voices for Splinter and one of the Turtles, but not the other three.  Every time I try to think of a logical reason for that, my brain farts.

On the dialogue front, not only do we get a steady stream of bad deliveries and tired clichés, we get treated to Shredder switching from Japanese to English back to Japanese – because that was the one thing missing from this movie, forced usage of the old catch phrases that don’t resonate even a little bit, and the following lines from Sacks – “Time to take a bite out of the Big Apple,” “I guess April came early this year,” and his motivation “I’m going to be stupid rich.”  Dude, you live in a castle and drive a helicopter; you’re just stupid.

It’s time to wrap this thing up, so here are the last three things that inspire jaw-dropping in the name of stupidity.

  • In order to save Splinter, they need to get their hands on the Mutagen taken from their blood.  Except, Splinter already has the same shit in his blood.  I guess Shredder isn’t the only moron in this film.
  • The Turtles thank April for not telling the world about them, even though she told her editor in the hopes of telling the rest of the world in the form of a news sotry, told Sacks about them (causing the entire last sixty minutes of the film to happen), and showed themselves to the entire world by standing in the middle of Times Square after falling from a skyscraper in front of hundreds of people.
  • In what is the worst and most unnecessary product placement ever, the final scene shows two of the Turtles hiding on a giant Victoria’s Secret billboard by grabbing onto the depicted breasts of model Behati Prinsloo.  I’m pretty sure eight-year olds aren’t going to get that joke and if they do, there are some parents who need to be arrested.

Rating: If you spent money to see this movie and aren’t accompanying your small children, you deserve to have your wallet stolen.