Tag Archives: C

TURBO

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The Little Engine That Could hits the rails again in “Turbo,” except that in the new 3D kidflick from DreamWorks Animation, it’s a snail that has the big dream and a NASCAR track he has his protruding eye on. The picture is colorful and amiable enough, but like a car race that drags on for hundreds of laps, it grows repetitive and more than a bit dull before the finish line is reached. It also has several problems that undermine its message and narrative drive.

When we first meet Theo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), the little critter is just one of dozens of snails “working,” assembly-line fashion, a tomato patch in a suburban garden, where they’re regularly terrorized by a nasty little boy on a tricycle. Unlike his fellows, who contentedly go about their daily routine under the foremanship of his practically-minded brother Chet (Paul Giamatti), Theo is obsessed with the idea of racing in NSCAR, spending his evenings watching the races on TV and listening to perpetual champion Guy Gagne (Bill Hader) encourage his fans to go for the gold, however difficult the road might seem. Still, Theo’s dream seems impossible, until he’s endowed with super-speed after an accidental encounter with a street racer.

That’s the first problem with “Turbo”—the moniker Theo is eventually given because of his newfound ability. His success isn’t based on grit and determination; it’s literally the result of a chemical reaction, not unlike Peter Parker being zapped by a radioactive spider. He’s no longer the Little Engine That Could—he’s a high-speed locomotive, which seriously alters the moral of the tale. And though a twist in the final race ultimately throws him back on his own “natural” resources, it’s too little, too late.

Anyway, one big dreamer apparently wasn’t enough for the screenwriters—another problem—because they add a second in the person of Tito (Michael Pena), a taco-truck driver always looking for ways to turn the little stand he runs with his more pragmatic brother Angelo (Luiz Guzman) into a success. When he discovers Theo/Turbo’s amazing speed, he enlists the other colorful business owners in their run-down neighborhood (Michelle Rodriguez, Richard Jenkins and Ken Jeong) to chip in to cover the sponsorship cost of the mollusk’s entrance in the Indy 500. Soon they’re all off to Indiana in the taco truck, along with the reluctant Chet and the humans’ other racing snails (Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dog, Maya Rudolph, Ben Schwartz and Michael Patrick Bell).

There are, of course, some objections to the snail’s acceptance among the competitors—after all, despite his name, Turbo’s no car. But after Guy speaks up on his behalf, he’s admitted to the race. It’s only at this point that villainy enters the picture in a form you might anticipate it you find foreign accents suspicious. But that’s also too little, too late, although the scripters are smart enough to force Turbo to finish the race on his own power rather than his extraordinary swiftness.

The animation is fine and the use of 3D not as oppressive as it often is (the expert cinematographer Wally Pfister served as a visual consultant, and it shows), while the voice talent adds some sonic luster even if Reynolds is a pretty bland hero. (Henry Jackman’s score, which often falls back on hip-hop to jazz up the action, is, on the other hand, mostly an annoyance.)

Very young children will probably be most receptive to “Turbo,” appreciating its color and story simplicity. But while older kids and adults may get a few chuckles from the secondary characters (a running gag with Bell, playing a chubby snail who calls himself The White Shadow, is amusing), they’ll probably that the movie’s running on fumes long before the final lap.

DESPICABLE ME 2

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2010’s “Despicable Me” proved a moderately amusing 3D-animated kidflick, with Steve Carell doing a goofy accent as Gru, the self-styled super-villain who tried to outdo his rival by stealing the moon. But in the process he was sidetracked by three adorable little girls, to whom he became a surrogate daddy, and his nastiness quickly degenerated—along with the picture’s—into a clammy sweetness by the close.

That unfortunate state of affairs is further advanced in this sequel, which was written by the same duo who penned its predecessor but seem at a total loss as to how to continue the spiel. Their solution is to build a ramshackle script around a comic spy story, which was a stale idea when it was used in “Cars 2” (a movie that should have given them pause) and comes off just as badly here. One would have thought that Carell might have been warned off the premise by his lame “Get Smart” remake, which you’re also reminded of by Gru’s romance with a goofy female colleague named Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig). But they’ve all plowed ahead with the scenario, making room for plenty of “Bachelor Father” interludes with the girls and even more slapstick scenes featuring the Minions, the squeaky-voiced, nonsense-spouting little somethings that were the unquestionable hits of the initial installment and are highlighted this time around in intrusive, often digressive sketches so numerous that they almost take over the entire picture. (The intent is doubtlessly to pave the way for a movie and television series of their own.)

The basic plot has Gru, whose plan to distribute a new line of jams and jellies formulated by his associate Dr. Nefario (Russell Banks) falls apart, recruited by a super-spy agency called the Anti-Villain League headed by the officious Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan). His mission is to discover the identity of a mastermind who has made off with a serum that can transform benign creatures into ferocious beasts. The agency has tracked the villain to a shopping mall whose shopowners become suspects, and eventually Gru identifies Mexican restaurateur Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt) as a dastardly fellow who uses the nom de crime El Macho when engaged in nefarious deeds. But the fact that El Macho is supposedly dead leads Ramsbottom to discount Gru’s intuition. To add to Gru’s discomfort, his eldest daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) falls for the restaurant-owner’s slick son Antonio (Moises Arias), setting off his paternal protectionism. Naturally the Minions fit into the last act, since they’re the critters that the villain intends to infect with the terrible serum he’s stolen.

The youngsters who’ve watched the original “Despicable Me” to death will probably embrace this sequel with equal enthusiasm and turn it into a substantial hit, not only in theatres but in later ancillary formats. But though kids may enjoy it, it’s a cluttered, misshapen piece of work, cobbled together in a way that suggests a kind of desperation—or, when it comes to the extensive footage given to the Minions, crude calculation. The animation is fine, of course—one can take that as a given in these computer-driven days. And the picture makes use of the 3D effects in predictable ways that will still be effective as far as family audiences are concerned.

But the voice work leaves a good deal to be desired. Carell frankly sounds tired, and Wiig is encouraged to be so shrilly broad in her delivery that Lucy quickly becomes annoying rather than lovable. Coogan and Brand are surprisingly anonymous. And while Bratt is certainly enthusiastic, one can’t help but agree with Al Pacino, who reportedly left the role of Eduardo citing “creative differences,” that the movie was headed in a wrong direction.

Even the title no longer makes sense. Gru is no longer despicable—he’s (ugh!) positively lovable. Should it be called “Not Despicable Me Anymore,” or “Despicable Him”? Whatever the case, it certainly shouldn’t be called a worthy sequel to the amiable original.