Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Microreview [film]: Turbo Kid

Back to the future

Turbo Kid is another entry in the semiserious/semi-ironic '80s retro movement linking artists working across multiple media. This one, specifically, is a cinematic homage to the cheap Mad Max ripoffs that only ever seemed to play at the one surviving drive-in left in town, but took up significant real estate at your local video store. I remember, at a young age, holding the fat laminated boxes--marveling at the disfigured faces of post-apocalyptic mutants and foam spike armor of the inevitable raiders, wondering what thrills I might receive if my parents would just let me rent something with that much gore. But when that glorious day arrived, I would inevitably realize, as Peter Sobczynski notes, that these were films whose boxes "always promised more than they ever came close to delivering."

This is the story of the Kid (Munro Chambers), a teenager who rides his bike across the post-apocalyptic wasteland of 1997, scavenging junk to trade for water. While out in the field, he meets Apple (Laurence Lebouef), a very manic pixie dream girl who follows the Kid to his hideout and, through her irrepressible joie de vivre (this is a French-Canadian production, after all), wins over the initially suspect Kid.

Then shit starts to go south. Local badman Zeus (Michael Ironsides) first kidnaps the area protector, Kiwi cowboy and arm-wrestling champion Frederick (Aaron Jeffery), then Apple. All seems lost when, in the midst of trying to escape Apple's kidnappers, the Kid discovers an underground military vessel left over from humanity's catastrophic war with the robots (i.e. the apocalyptic event). Inside there is a jump suit complete with a Nintendo Power Glove, which--if fully charged--can instantly disintegrate a human being. He goes to save Apple (who it turns out can take care of herself quite ably), and in the process sets up a confrontation with Zeus and his gang of foam spike clad marauders.

Standard '80s B-movie fare, right? On the surface, yes--and Turbo Kid does a good job of reinterpreting its source material with a good balance of satire and appreciation for what makes grindhouse film fun to watch--not least of which the hilariously over-the-top gore, which gets more and more absurd as the film goes on. Oh, and it sports a phenomenal soundtrack by synthwave group Le Matos.

What makes Turbo Kid really stand out, though, is its emotional core--propelled by its central relationships, and especially the friendship between the Kid and Apple, which is surprisingly heartfelt and affecting. In the end, Turbo Kid isn't really about action or '80s nostalgia--it's about lonely people finding friendship, and here it doesn't play for laughs, winks or nudges. Sure, Apple starts off as your standard manic pixie dream girl (albeit extra manic), while the Kid doesn't even merit a name; still, by the end of the film I realized how deeply invested I'd become in what happens to them--in a way I rarely am with unserious films made after 1990.

I guess that's the thing about '80s culture that people in 2016 find so attractive, whether we're talking action schlock, John Hughes romances or the digital keyboard sounds used by Billy Ocean--there's a sincerity about all of it, even when that sincerity is corny as hell. And Turbo Kid does a fantastic job capturing that. It's funny and silly, but also distinctly bittersweet, and deeply romantic. Just as importantly, Turbo Kid is the kind of film you can't wait to watch again.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for the highly resonant emotional core of the film, which is what separates it from other attempts to pull of this kind of thing; +1 for the fantastic Le Matos soundtrack, which really accentuates everything the director is going for.

Penalties: -1 for the first 10-15 minutes of the film, which are a bit awkward relative to the rest. '

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10. "Very high quality/standout in its category."


POSTED BY: The G--purveyor of nerdliness, genre fanatic and Nerds of a
Feather founder/administrator, since 2012.

Reference: Turbo Kid, directed by Simard, Whissell and Whissell [Epic Pictures, 2015]