Turbo Kid

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/02/15 15:11:00

"One of the finest 1980s action movies made in the twenty-first century."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Turbo Kid" seemed to be on the fast track to being a cult hit well before its release; folks seemed keen on the short film produced as part of a contest connected to "ABCs of Death" and it seemed to get plenty of early buzz looking for funding and production partners as part of the Fantasia Festival's Frontières co-production market and had people looking forward to it for a year or two. A hero's welcome for the Quebec production was not unexpected at its Montreal premiere; but tat the movie actually is the sort of cheerfully gory retro-sci-fi blast intended is kind of a pleasant surprise.

It takes place in the future world of 1997, when acid rain and nuclear wars have left the world a wasteland. Teenage orphan "The Kid" (Munro Chambers) scavenges what he needs - along with toys and comic books, especially those featuring his favorite, Turbo Rider - while trading them for water. Things are about to get interesting, though - not only has he apparently found a pod full of the sort of gadgets the comic book character uses, but his path has just crossed with Apple (Laurence Leboeuf), a relentlessly cheerful girl from across the wasteland who quickly attaches herself to him. Meanwhile, warlord Zeus (Michael Ironside) controls the water supply with an iron fist, though he worries about arm-wrestling champion Frederick (Aaron Jeffery) leading a revolt.

Most action/sci-fi movies built to be throwbacks to the filmmakers' youth are terrible, for a number of reasons: Sometimes the filmmakers think aping the ineptitude they laughed at is funny itself (it's generally not), often they don't have the resources to do what they need, other times they're just pale imitations without animating spark of their own. I suspect that what gives <I>Turbo Kid</I> that spark is that filmmakers François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell don't just try to imitate the films they watched as kids when their parents weren't looking, but throw in everything else they did at that age: BMX biking, comic books, 8-bit video games, starting to be thrown for a loop by the opposite sex. It feels like they are channelling everything that felt exciting at that age into the movie rather than just one facet (gory movies) which doesn't fit with the things that a filmmaker's adult self puts in. As a result, the movie feels like everything they would have wanted at The Kid's age pulled forward, rather than recaptured.

That makes for an energetic movie that doesn't necessarily have much in the way of plot - The Kid and Apple sort of ricochet from one immediate goal to the next, with the stakes getting higher but not necessarily building from one thing to the next - but doesn't need it to evoke a feeling. And it works to tell this story; the flashbacks give just enough background on The Kid to answer what questions the viewer might have, and paths cross and diverge so as to keep the story moving.

The main pair also have a ton of charm; Munro Chambers does a nice job of not making The Kid a particularly cool or lovably-nerdy sort of character, but instead capturing how being orphaned may make him think he's had to grow up fast but in reality has meant that in some way he hasn't grown up at all. Laurence Lebeouf does go big, making Apple a kind of straight-from-the-eighties, wide-eyed goof, but she's seldom given material that mutes this look unreasonable, at least when the audience gets to know her particulars. She sells the silly, and creates enough genuine affection that viewers will be surprised how seriously they take her by the end. Michael Ironside and Aaron Jeffrey turn in fun performances as well.

The right attitude in both scripting and acting is a big part of why Turbo Kid is a lot of fun, there are certain goods one wants it to deliver, and it generally does. The filmmakers all have special effects backgrounds, and make use of that to design some inventive gore and make sure that the mayhem seldom lets up, specializing in quick hits rather than lingering suffering that stops being fun. The action is fast-moving and entertaining to watch, and they create a look that is lo-fi but seldom cheap-looking. Not every gag or blow lands, but when they fail, they fail honestly rather than with an ironic excuse ready.

A lot more succeed, though, and that gets it to ninety pretty entertaining minutes. "Turbo Kid" is undeniably a throwback, but a lot more of those would be enjoyable if made with the clear enthusiasm and whole-hearted embrace that seems to be present here.

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