Turbo Kid Review
Turbo Kid is a post-apocalyptic love letter to the action-horror genre. It looks and sounds wonderful, with the kind of world-building you would expect from ‘80s film aficionados. The writing-directing trio of François Simard, Anouk Whissell & Yoann-Karl Whissell dials up the kitsch and adds just enough heart to keep things from getting too zany. Unfortunately, a lackluster script and bland leading performance prevent Turbo Kid from being more than just a pleasant trifle, but it’s a bloody fun way to spend your Saturday night.
Turbo Kid is a movie for movie lovers. From the funky costumes to a pitch-perfect synth soundtrack, it gets all the details exactly right. Ironically, this loving homage to ‘80s cheese more closely resembles a classic western than a Cannon Films holdover. The reluctant hero duels it out with the mustache-twirling villain and his evil henchmen, all to save the lawless village and win the hand of a lovely maiden. It’s a classic story… just add buckets of blood and a nuclear winter.
The Kid (Munro Chambers) has been on his own for a long time. He’s an orphan trying to survive in post-apocalyptic 1997. Each day he scours the Wasteland on his BMX bike, dragging potential weapons and precious mementos back to his hideout. Occasionally, he pedals into town and trades his wares for some putrid water and a tattered comic book starring his hero, Turbo Rider. His world is turned upside down, however, when he stumbles upon a girl named Apple (Laurence Leboeuf), who latches onto him like a lost puppy dog.
The post-apocalypse is a dangerous time to be forming attachments; a fact The Kid quickly discovers when Apple is kidnapped by the sinister water baron, Zeus (Michael Ironside). To say that Michael Ironside has a good time chewing the scenery would be a massive understatement. He has all the characteristics of a classic western ‘black hat,’ with a healthy dose of self-aware Bond villainy. When a victim begs to be released from Zeus’ elaborate death trap, Ironside deadpans, “Do you know how long it took me to build this thing?” He’s a terrific foil for the overmatched Kid, who must face his own fears before he can ever hope to defeat a monster like Zeus.
It’s a delightful premise that never really goes anywhere, unfortunately. While the filmmakers’ love and loyalty for genre conventions is evident, they settle for namechecking their references rather than transcending the genre. Once we get what Simard, Whissell and Whissell are doing, we keep waiting for them to dazzle us with something new. Yes, there is an outrageous amount of blood and gore, but the splatstick humor gets repetitive and, ultimately, quite tedious. The filmmakers become fixated on the ultra-violence and neglect the most interesting part of their story; the relationship between The Kid and Apple.
As Apple, Leboeuf is a manic firebrand who consumes the oxygen in every scene. When The Kid reluctantly admits her into his secret hideout, she haphazardly tinkers with his treasures and beams, “It’s like a museum of coolness in here!” Her energy and charisma make her so damn huggable that you forgive her over-the-top excesses and understand completely why The Kid would fall in love with her. Given Leboeuf’s dynamic screen presence, it’s not surprising that her co-star, Chambers, seems lethargic and wheezy in comparison. Too often, The Kid is a passenger in his own story, while more interesting characters and events swirl around him. Chambers’ bland performance does no favors for an already-sluggish script.
More specifically, the script seems oblivious on how to incorporate all of these elements into a cohesive story. Characters disappear for long stretches of time and the transitions between scenes are clunky and disorienting. The scene in which The Kid discovers his new weaponry, for instance, is completely baffling. An entire character, Frederic the arm wrestler (Aaron Jeffery), exists only to fulfill the Harrison Ford rascal quota, appearing and disappearing when the story gets stuck. Worse still, there’s enough ‘sudden comfort’ in this movie to build a hammock across the Grand Canyon.
Still, the filmmakers get a lot right, as they cobble together a distinctive world from found objects. The costume design is top-notch, with each character fashioning their meager scraps into a personality statement. Everyone rides around on a dilapidated BMX bike that looks like a hand-me-down from their older sister. The Kid uses nail polish to paint his crusty helmet, and his “Power Glove” looks like it came straight off a 1980’s game console. The soundtrack skillfully blends John Carpenter-esque riffs, dreamlike Vangelis vibes, and sophomoric hair metal into beautiful chaos. It’s the kind of stuff that will make a lot of viewers love this movie unconditionally.
Turbo Kid is a unified cinematic vision from three filmmakers who obviously love and understand the action-horror genre. The ingredients are all here to create something truly original, but it feels content to celebrate nostalgia rather than forge its own identity. Still, there are far worse cinematic crimes than crafting an entertaining Midnight Movie. Turbo Kid is a time machine back to the over-indulgent ‘80s. Just set the controls for some righteous cheese and enjoy the ride.