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TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014) review

August 10, 2014

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written by: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Evan Daugherty

produced by: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Bradley Fuller, Galen Walker, Scott Mednick & Ian Bryce

directed by: Jonathan Liebesman

rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence)

runtime: 101 min.

U.S. release date: August 8, 2014

I don’t know if I can truly express how much I like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, how big a fan I was growing up and now as a grown-up kid of sorts. The animated series that ran for 10 seasons and 193 episodes was a staple in my childhood, as was the film trilogy that hit theaters between 1990 and 1993. Those four famous turtles never really left the public eye with a variety of action figures, cartoon series and even a couple reboot attempts on the franchise. Our latest entry? 2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”.

Crime is running rampant across New York City as the police are seemingly baffled by the appearance of a new gang of street thugs called the Foot Clan. No one seems to be able to stop this new powerful gang led by the mysterious Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), but an intrepid young TV news reporter, April O’Neill (Megan Fox), is looking to get into the guts of the story. She stumbles into something, a vigilante fighting back against the Foot Clan…or so she thinks. It’s not a vigilante, but four vigilantes, but even April is in for a surprise. These four vigilantes are anthropomorphic turtles who are expert ninjas and named after Renaissance painters: Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo. They live in the sewers, only revealing themselves as needed to help fight crime while keeping their identities hidden. Heavily outnumbered, can these four teenage turtles slow down and ultimately stop Shredder and the Foot Clan?

 

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Seriously, I loved the Turtles growing up. Yeah, we’re on a first name basis. They’re the Turtles. I had the action figures, the Turtle van, the baseball cards, the clothes, the weapons, and I watched that show and the movies religiously. I’ve grown up since (some I guess, probably not a lot), but the TMNT are still epic, still awesome. I missed out on the 2007 animated version, but just the same I was a tad curious, a bit worried when I heard another reboot was coming along. That worried feeling got worse when I read the master of explosions and flashy style Michael Bay was involved as a producer and when Megan Fox was cast as April O’Neil, the best TV news reporter…like, ever. I didn’t head into this 2014 reboot with high expectations but still came away disappointed.

I don’t know exactly why I didn’t care for this flick from director Jonathan Liebesman (“Wrath of the Titans” and “Battle Los Angeles“). It’s not one big reason, but a lot of little reasons. Let’s start with the Turtles themselves. This may sound like sour grapes because the ones I grew up with are my favorites, but the Turtles…they just don’t look right. They look right when it’s actually something on-screen, not the CGI turtles on display here. They look like they’ve been hitting the gym pretty good – cough steroids cough – under the tutelage of their ninja master, Splinter (voice of  Tony Shalhoub, motion capture of  Danny Woodburn). All the familiar touches are there from their catch phrases to their rivalry (Leo and Raphael are still in a power struggle) to their love of pizza. Even their back story sticks with the known stuff but for lack of a better description, it comes down to this. Those Turtles, they’re cutouts of their characters. Nothing more, nothing less.

 

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Let’s start with the voices and the characterization we do get. Jackass star Johnny Knoxville voices Leonardo, the Turtles’ strong-willed leader. Yeah, “Jackass” star. I like Knoxville, but his voice wasn’t a great match for the character. That’s the most recognizable name among our quartet, Alan Ritchson (Raphael), Noel Fisher (Michelangelo) and  Jeremy Howard (Donatello) rounding out the group. As we see here, Raphael is more intense and moody than ever, Donatello is more of a science/tech nerd than ever, and Michelangelo simply wants to bang Fox’s April. It gets weird, the most lovable of the Turtles, Mikey himself, constantly hitting on April. I can’t pinpoint it, but something was missing among the group whether it be the visual, the voices or just a poor script. Disappointed across the board.

Unfortunately, the Turtles’ human counterparts don’t fare much better. Yes, Megan Fox is incredibly easy on the eyes. One of the stars of the first two “Transformers” movies before having a falling out with Bay, Fox will never be called a great actress. She’s miscast as April O’Neil, simple as that. Will Arnett is a funny guy in most things he does, but his Vernon Fenwick, April’s cameraman, doesn’t have much chemistry and the attempts at laughs didn’t do much for me. William Fichtner is okay as Eric Sacks, a scientist and humanitarian involved with the creation of the Turtles who has some ulterior motives. In the odd ‘What the heck?’ casting department,  Whoopi Goldberg appears in a couple scenes as April’s boss at the news station. Minae Noji is underused as Shredder’s enforcer, Karai.

There is some cool action in the last third of the movie as the Turtles do battle with Shredder and the Foot Clan, the battle starting on a mountaintop mansion and making its way to the streets of New York, ultimately wrapping up at the top of a skyscraper. It’s pretty decent stuff, Bay’s typically schizophrenic style kept relatively low-key while still packing an adrenaline punch.

My biggest issue though? I was bored. I love these characters, love their story, love their camaraderie, and I was downright bored for almost the entire movie. I seem to be in the minority, ‘Turtles’ raking in the dough to the tune of almost $300 million internationally as I write this review. A sequel has already been announced so there’s that too. An unfortunate negative review for a childhood favorite not living up to expectations that weren’t that high to begin with.

 

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RATING: *1/2 

 

 

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