Imagine what "Fury Road" might have been like if the apocalypse had occurred before the characters were old enough to get their drivers licenses. It might have turned out like "Turbo Kid," a cheerfully silly and goofily gory homage to 80's-era cheapo action films whose boxes always promised more than they ever came close to delivering.In the distant year of 1997, the planet is barely habitable, the most precious resource is water and everything is run by Zeus (Michael Ironside, naturally), a one-eyed despot with an army of thugs to help do his brutal beating. Our hero is a comic book-obsessed orphaned teenager, known only as The Kid (Munro Chambers), who supports himself by scavenging for pieces of pop culture detritus that he can trade for H2O. One day, he acquires something unexpected in the form of Apple (Laurence Lebeouf), a ridiculously perky girl who appoints herself his best friend and sidekick, whether he likes it or not. She does eventually grow on him and when she is kidnapped by one of Zeus's men, he rescues her with the aid of what appears to be the functioning super-suit of his favorite super hero, Turbo Man, and the two of them, along with second sidekick Frederic (Aaron Jeffrey) go on the run with Zeus and his men in hot pursuit.
Under normal circumstances, spending 90 minutes or so watching people trying to deliberately replicate the bad moviemaking of another era for comedic effect can get old pretty fast once the premise has been established--how many times can one laugh at crappy special effects and relentless stilted dialogue. (One of the few to pull this gambit off was the ersatz Fifties sci-fi potboiler that provided the spine for "Amazon Women on the Moon" and that was mostly because the film's conceit--it was a television broadcast that was constantly being interrupted--meant that the whole thing could be boiled down to 20 minutes of only the good parts). "Turbo Kid" does eventually begin to wear a bit thin as well towards the very end but it maintains its freshness a lot longer than I might have expected. Part of this is because the three-person directorial collective known as RKSS have found just the right tone for the film that scores a number of big laughs and displays a genuine affection for the type of filmmaking it is going after without ever lapsing into condescension. I also found the blend of child-like innocence and over-the-top gore to be oddly amusing--the effect is kind of what it might have been like if the typical Amblin Entertainment effort of the era was suddenly taken over by the young Peter Jackson of "Bad Taste" fame.The best thing about the film--the thing that keeps it bopping along even when it threatens to run out of gas--is the genuinely inspired performance by Laurence Lebouef as Apple, a girl who somehow manages to be chirpy and enthusiastic about everything in her post-apocalyptic world. You would think that such a character would get irritating very quickly but she manages to bring an exuberance to the role that is absolutely winning. I can't honestly say that I would want to see a "Turbo Kid 2" anytime soon but if someone gets the bright idea to do an Apple spinoff, I will be there opening day.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2015 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.