Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: Turbo Kid

by Patrick Bromley
If you don't like Turbo Kid, I'm not sure we can be friends.

That probably sounds harsh. I don't mean to suggest you're not allowed to like Turbo Kid. It's not a movie for everyone, and even some of the audience for whom it's made won't connect with it for one reason or another. But as someone who nakedly wears his love of '80s genre movies both on this site and in life, Turbo Kid connected with me in such a way that for someone to reject it would be like a rejection of me. Thus, we cannot be friends. It's ok. Being friends with me isn't all that great. Just ask Doug.
A Canadian/New Zealand production (which right there is reason enough to love it) written and directed by the team of Fran├žois Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell, Turbo Kid takes place in the distant apocalyptic wasteland of 1997. Water is scarce and a one-eyed dictator named Zeus (played by the great Michael Ironside, because OF COURSE HE IS) is running the show, forcing people to fight to the death for sport. Minding his own business is The Kid (Munro Chambers), who stays out of trouble and scavenges the wasteland on his BMX for anything usable or entertaining; his prized possession is an old comic book he reads again and again, dreaming of a life as a superhero instead of being lonely and afraid. Things change when he meets Apple (Laurence Leboeuf giving the year's most adorable performace), a young woman of endless positivity who insists on being his new best friend. He also finds a special turbo-charged glove with incredible power, which comes in handy when he and Apple and a loner named Frederick the Arm Wrestler (Aaron Jeffery) are hunted down by Zeus and his band of savages.
Maybe the best "It Came from the '80s" movie not released in the '80s, Turbo Kid is a pitch-perfect tribute to the fantasy and sci-fi movies of that decade, from the production design to the photography to the amazing synth score by Jean-Philippe Bernier and Jean-Nicolas Leupi to the use of mostly practical effects in achieving the film's gleefully over the top violence and gore. The filmmakers get so many of the details right: the character names, the Stan Bush song that plays the first time we see The Kid ride his BMX across the wasteland (complete with a slow-mo shot of an only midly impressive stunt), the bad inspirational speech Apple gives (shades of Monique in Better Off Dead). It's more than just an attempt to mimic the aesthetics, though; the filmmakers have synthesized not only the look and feel of those movies but also their heart and imagination and created something that isn't just a copy of a copy. It's its own thing despite seeming like a lot of other things.

Earlier this year, the internet went crazy for Kung Fury, a crowdfunded short film that tried to do a lot of these same things. While it demonstrated a lot of creativity and ambition, I couldn't get past the hollow air-quote nature of the whole thing -- it threw in a bunch of signifiers of things that are "awesome" (Ninjas! Robots! Dinosaurs! David Hasselhoff!) but never added up to any signs. It was an exercise in DIY visual effects and editing.
The movie that genre fans and hipsters should be losing their shit for is Turbo Kid, which has all of the things people loved about Kung Fury but which actually has a soul to make the awesome stuff resonate. It helps, too, that the film is more than just a stylistic exercise; there is a story being told, and while it's formulaic (by design), the performances are so winning and the narrative mechanics sturdy enough that we actually lose ourselves in the film and invest in what is happening. The relationship between The Kid and Apple is genuinely sweet enough that despite visual gags which might otherwise undercut their most significant moments together, those beats are actually really romantic (I can't be more specific without spoilers, but you'll know the moment when you see it and it is wonderful). That's a difficult balancing act to pull off, but Turbo Kid walks the line beautifully from start to finish. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that -- all due apologies to Imperator Furiosa -- Laurence Leboeuf's Apple might be my favorite movie character of 2015.
I love, love, love Turbo Kid, and not just because it's both referential and reverential of the '80s movies on which I grew up. I love it because the filmmakers made a really good movie inside of that aesthetic, one with heart and humor and limitless charm and lots of bloody violence staged for laughs instead of shocks. They understand not just the "what" of the specialness of '80s genre movies, but the "why" as well -- they connect the dots with character and emotion where other similar efforts have just laid them out on screen and expected audiences to be impressed by the dots. On paper, the whole endeavor seems like a nostalgia-fueled stunt. In practice, it's one of my very favorite movies of the year.



Turbo Kid is in limited theatrical release and on VOD/iTunes beginning August 28.

24 comments:

  1. You had me at Monique from Better Off Dead.

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  2. Been really looking forward this. On VOD today, btw for those interested!

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    1. Thanks, Chaybee. Just added a note about the release to the review.

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    2. He had me at ill see it 100 times more and any Better off Dead references
      Can't wait to see it

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  3. You had me at "distant apocalyptic wasteland of 1997". I think the key here is "referential AND REVERENTIAL" - will definitely try to check this out soon.

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  4. I really enjoyed the movie. My only quibble would be that the violence was too over the top for my taste and it kinda took me out of the movie. I like violence in movies but when it gets too cartoony I start to check out. Loved the central relationship of the movie and Apple really was adorable. I had another minor issue with how the movie wraps up but it's a spoiler so I won't get into but I was so close to loving it and I think another viewing might make me love it, right now I like it a lot. Everyone should see it. Fantastic soundtrack too.

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  5. Great review. This is my favorite romance of the year as well. Also, Apple is like the Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday of post-apocalyptic movies.

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    1. I always thought that the girl from Brick (Nora Zehetner) was going to be the next Hepburn. Still has a chance but doesn't look like she's doing much.

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    2. I loved Nora Zehetner in Brick. I miss her terribly.

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  6. Do not mess with Vimeo if you are watching on a smart TV. Unfortunately, it's the only spot I could find this but it just keeps buffering and freezing and so on. Big, fat gas face to Vimeo dropping the ball. Had a similar situation last year - pretty much done with their service.

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  7. Fuck yea! They are playing this through out the weekend at one of the best theaters in Portland, The Hollywood Theater. So fucking stoked!!!

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  8. Another film to add to the best film to come from the 80s that's not from the 80s is Ti West's House of the Devil, I really like that movie
    Turbo kid for me tonight though, defo

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  9. Turbo Kid is all kinds of Awesome!
    Thanks for the heads up or I would of not checked this out on the title alone, it really is great, even though there's over the top gore which I love this film is not about the gore. Its about heart. So many heart felt moments. And I think I fell in love with Apple

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  10. "Turbo Kid" is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Great news, as the only theater playing it near me is in Yonkers (which might as well be on the moon for this island-bound New Yorker).

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  11. Patrick thank you for your review and mentioning this movie on the show. I absolutely loved the movie and I doubt I would have ever heard of the film without you.Also Apple is a my new screen crush

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  12. Just realized I hadn't read this again since seeing the movie - such a great review. I just checked out Rotten Tomatoes, not because I really care, but just to see what kind of mainstream reviews it was getting and they're mostly positive but man the first one I saw really pissed me off. "Made for ironicists" - no asshole, it wasn't made FOR ironicists, it was made for and by people who love the aesthetic and simple but heartfelt storytelling of 80s genre movies. Ironicists might reap some of the rewards but surely in a far less rewarding way. NOT being made for "ironicists" is precisely what made this movie special to me.

    And I love Apple of course and man does she pull off that performance but I was also so impressed with Michael Ironside when I watched it again the other day. He would earn his paycheque just for showing his face but he just seems to know exactly what movie he's in and instead of going for the obvious over-the-top 80s villain, he plays the character with a lot of subtlety that makes for a lot of genuine humour as opposed to the eye-rolling variety.

    Again, great review and many thanks for turning me on to when ended up being one of my favourite movies of the year. I know you're not into special cases but I just got the steelbook release of this and it's pretty cool...with our dollar the way it is you could probably import it to the US for a song...

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    1. I just saw that release, I own it already on BR but I want that version, its a piece of Art

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    2. It is a beauty - comes with a transparent plastic slip too which I thought was nice for a steelbook.

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    3. I like the fact the Writing is on the plastic so without it its the Artwork unhindered, Check out the Zavvi American werewolf in London Steelbook, and Zavvi Karate kid, Some of my faves

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  13. Watched this for the first time this past weekend and cried out of happiness a little bit. It did not disappoint.

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  14. Im glad i'm not the only one with sickening obsession with this movie! Watched it 5 times within a week; everything was spot on for me.

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