28 October 2013

TURBO- Review

A few months after it splattered against the broad side of Despicable Me 2 at the US box office, Dreamworks' latest animation, Turbo, seems to have arrived in UK cinemas just in time to make Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 look slightly less conceptually berserk. Unfortunately, it also feels like the kind of film that the studio was making several years ago, before their recent upswing in quality.

The film is named for the nom de plume of a snail, Theo, who's fanatical about racing. He dreams of entering the Indianapolis 500-Mile race, undeterred by the fact that he can't drive, and that nature keeps him moving at around a millimetre per second. While his responsible older brother, Chet, insists that he grows up and gets to work, Theo keeps on keeping on, and sure enough, he winds up gaining super-speed from an accident with nitrous oxide that changes his DNA.

The film plays a little like someone cobbled together the interesting parts of Cars and Ratatouille. The racing stuff comes from the former, and from the latter, we have an animal with an atypical talent, who dreams of being famous for that talent despite his family's protests, and winds up teaming up with a sorta-dopey human who can show him the way to the big time. In the end, "a snail who wants to go fast" just isn't as interesting, or as plausible, as "a rat who wants to cook."

From R-L: Turbo (Ryan Reynolds) and Paul Giamatti (himself).
Not that it's a matter of plausibility; never mind that snails also can't talk, or that it's a film aimed at very young children, it's just not that engaging. The film seems to move quickly and yet slowly at the same time. By the time I was just getting into it, it had already reached the third act finale, set at the Indy 500, but at the same time as realising that, I found myself quite glad that it wasn't going to go on for much longer. And so, what should seem fast-paced and enjoyable actually comes across as quite perfunctory.

The film does have a couple of saving graces, including the characters voiced by Paul Giamatti and Samuel L Jackson. Just as The Croods managed to distill what makes Nicolas Cage such a compelling live-action performer in the form of an animated caveman, both of these characters are terrific. Chet somehow encapsulates all of Giamatti's mannerisms in his chubby face and exasperated eyes, and the vocals are rock-solid too. While it's comparatively easier to point Jackson in one direction, wind him up and let him go, his dialogue as another racer snail, Whiplash, provides some of the best laughs in the movie.

It's also pretty nice to look at. Though it's hardly Rush, the final race sequence would look intense even without a diminutive hero trying to slide between comparatively enormous vehicles. As it turns out, Christopher Nolan's cinematographer, Wally Pfister, is credited as a visual consultant, continuing in Dreamworks' recent extension of their star-casting process to behind-the-scenes creative talents like Charlie Kaufman, Guillermo del Toro and Noah Baumbach. As apparent as Pfister's input may be, it's the script probably could've used one of those creative stars, especially judging by how this much more out-there premise pales in comparison to the surreal and simplistic glee of Baumbach's Madagascar 3.

For having such a bizarre premise, Turbo is ultimately content with going through the motions, and the zippy pace and lovely rendering can't entirely disguise that. It's far more reminiscent of something like Shark Tale than it ought to have been, especially in the wake of recent Dreamworks efforts. While it's far from the studio on its worst day, this is about as disappointing as a movie about a super-fast snail, racing full-size cars, in one of the biggest races in the world, could feasibly be.

Turbo is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen Turbo, why not share your comments below? If you haven't seen it, then seriously, go and see Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 instead.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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