Was “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” ever a quality franchise? I don’t think it was. I think the movies and especially the cartoon are regarded as thinly-veiled toy commercials even by their biggest fans.
A lot of times when I see a movie this bad based on a childhood “classic,” fans are quick to cry out that the movie oversimplified the complex, interesting characters (I heard a lot of this when it came to “The Last Airbender”). I’m not expecting a lot of these complaints when it comes to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” because the characters were never complex or interesting. The Turtles fought bad guys, they ate pizza, they made bad jokes and used really lame slang. The Turtles of this movie do all of those things so maybe the movie is faithful enough.
The plot initially follows tough reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) as she tries to crack the case/break the story of a crime syndicate attacking New York. The story takes a turn when she sees the gang get fought off by a shadowy vigilante. Actually it’s four vigilantes. Who happen to be teenagers, mutants, ninjas and turtles (I’ll spare you from the unfunny running gag about the traits being listed out of order). Also, she played a major part in their origin, which also involved her late scientist father and his still-living boss (William Fitchner), who you can tell from one look is up to no good. If I were a cop I’d arrest him just for looking so evil.
Once April meets the Turtles, the focus largely shifts over to them. You’ve got the leader Leonardo, tough one Raphael, comic relief Michelangelo and smart one Donatello (you can tell he’s the smart one because one of his first lines is “according to my calculations…”).
They live in the sewer where they’re strictly watched over by mutated rat Splinter. But he doesn’t watch them closely enough to keep them from sneaking out and fighting crime in secret. Apparently they’re the only ones capable of saving the city from the gang its leader, the diabolical armor freak Shredder.
My biggest problem with the movie was the choppy narrative. Plot threads and side characters are picked up and dropped as haphazardly as any film I’ve ever seen. I kept waiting for the film to return to April’s boss played by Whoopi Goldberg or her roommate played by Abby Elliot. Even April’s reporting career is pretty much forgotten by the end of the movie. It isn’t that I really cared about any of these elements (okay, I wanted to see more Abby Elliot, but her character was irrelevant), just that their lack of payoff is conspicuous.
The trauma of the most recent “Transformers” movie is still fresh in my mind, which is why I couldn’t bring myself to fully hate “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” True, “Transformers” director Michael Bay is a producer on this movie, but compared to that one, anything is tolerable. Maybe one out of ten action scenes is somewhat cool. Maybe one out of 20 jokes works, though there are definitely some groaners in the bunch, usually from Michelangelo. It’s a bad movie to be sure, but it’s not like it made me cringe so much that I nearly broke my armrest.
You know exactly what you’re getting with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” If you happen to enjoy the Turtles’ dumb exploits, you’ll probably find more to like in this movie than I did. I can’t guarantee that the established fanbase will like this movie, only that they’re the only ones with a chance of liking it. But if you go in already hating the Turtles, the movie is not going to change your mind. The best thing I can say for it is that it moves along at a good clip and is over pretty quickly; not at all paced like a turtle.
One and a Half Stars out of Five. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence. Its running time is 101 minutes.
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