For the past month, intrepid comedic actor Will Arnett has been promoting the bejesus out of his latest flick Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a hyperactive reboot of the original heroes in a half shell. He fearlessly sells his character (news cameraman Vernon Fenwick), the action sequences, and the New York City setting with utmost grit and spirited enthusiasm. If Tommy Boy’s Tom Callahan could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves, Arnett would try to sell the whole damn truck.
When you watch Jonathan Liebesman’s nauseating reinvention of the reptilian crime fighters, you can catch Arnett busting his optimistic chops to make the stupefying material work – or, at least be thrilling, campy, or watchable. But, alas, he has no luck. The film gives him lifeless comic relief to spout off, and his contribution is usually pushed aside to make way for alleged “exciting spectacles”.
A lot of people involved are trying to make Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles work. Megan Fox gives it a shot as the tenacious news reporter April O’Neil, but she’s terribly miscast in a role that’s drawn to – apparently – be a professional who has the mannerisms and intellect of a ten-year-old. And, she screams like one too.
She wants the scoop on increasing foot soldier catastrophes happening throughout the city, but we can’t exactly figure out her endgame. Cracking this case will move her away from fluffy news segments, but she never gives off the impression that she wants to be an investigative journalist. For all we know, she’s wanting to solve the mystery because she has nothing better to do on Tuesday nights.
William Fichtner is brought on to play a character with questionable instincts. As always, Fichtner doesn’t half-ass any of his menacing gestures, but the film’s strict guidelines keep the character actor in a ballpark that doesn’t challenge him. We get the impression that he’s always waiting for his “big moment”.
Then, we have the turtles; which countless animators have worked their buns off to create and render. Where do we start with the flaws? My criticisms don’t stem from “nerd rage”, though I don’t particularly care for the new design that only makes our protagonists look scummy and hulking. It’s an angle that kills any sort of charisma that existed before with these cartoons.
Instead, we get up close views of the clammy leads and even closer looks at the repugnant-looking Splinter, the turtles’ master. Splinter used to have a warm look to him, and now he looks like a sick dog who’s been left out on a rainy afternoon. With the ineffectual 3D, you can almost smell his dampness through the screen.
My problems with the turtles begin with producers, studios, and the film’s lazily compliant director who were all dead set to make a children’s film influenced by the success of recent darker superhero flicks.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a joyless endeavour. It’s a movie that would rather show its young audience scenes where foot soldiers hold guns to civilian heads than to show subtle and suitable intimidation. I’m aware the film has been rated PG-13, but Nickelodeon’s involvement is going to fool the paying public.
For some reason, everything has to snarl and look mean in order to be taken seriously. What Liebesman doesn’t realize is that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can still be taken seriously when they’re allowed to breathe.
A lot of the camaraderie, joking, and pop culture references between the heroes comes across as contrived drivel that eventually becomes obnoxious when the film’s script really rubs our faces in it. Crucial background details about the turtles are skipped over, such as the odd power rivalry between Raphael and Leonardo. Yet, Liebesman does make time for a flashback of a turtle dancing to Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl.
The animation doesn’t successfully merge into live action scenarios, and the CG-heavy action pieces have been faulted due to haphazard decisions. For instance: a predominant avalanche sequence has been shot with lots of close-ups and intrusively framed within one-shot takes. We can’t get swept up in this – or any of the action – because we don’t know what way is up. We can, however, make out shameless product placement, including an embarrassing Pizza Hut endorsement.
Bless Arnett for seeing glimmers of hope and potential in this blockbuster, but there’s too many sticky fingerprints covering this adaptation trying to make it resemble something easily accepted by an audience. Some of those fingerprints belong to producer Michael Bay, who’s frenetic irritating flash is smeared all over this film.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a film that can’t sit still. It feels the need to constantly swoop and shift the camera or throw choppy editing into the mix. If I took away anything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s that I was given a glimpse of what a current generation of iPhone addled youth finds entertaining. Is it true they like more edges and darkness than they do pleasant, bubbly escapism? Is what I find upsetting – such as a childhood character being brutally beaten and thrown around like a ragdoll within an inch of their life – watchable to someone with a shorter attention span? If so, the confounding action that takes place in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may wet their whistle, but the endless diatribes of exposition are going to put them to bed.
For me, nothing was entertaining and nothing was worthwhile. Watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was like drinking a lot of Mountain Dew and holding your head up against a booming sub woofer. If that’s what the kids are into nowadays, they can have it. I just ask that they don’t bother me with these new fangled turtles, and leave me alone on my porch to sip my lemon drink.