Editor’s Note: Turbo Kid opens in limited release August 28.
For a long time I’ve been sitting on the sidelines confused by this resurgence of faux nostalgia driven filmmaking. We’re not talking homages to inspirational films of yesterday but flat out repurposing of a spirit of less than stellar filmmaking that had mostly been forgotten on aging VHS cassettes. Admittedly, I’ve never understood this need to be bad on purpose. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the odd terrible film, a la Troll 2 or The Room. But what those have that others like Hobo with a Shotgun or the entire Troma catalogue lack is a sense of sincerity. They know they are bad and for all intents and purposes, are trying to be that way.
So I checked out. Anything in the “grindhouse” vein was just not my jam.
Things have changed.
…the smaller moments between The Kid and Laurence Leboeuf’s Apple are what make the film more than just spurts of bombast.
Turbo Kid isn’t the same as those others that aspire to one day find cult success. No, this is a movie that takes on the 80s over-the-top pastiche as a backdrop, as a way of telling the story, rather than letting it be the whole thing. The writing is not as glaringly bad, although the film is admittedly full of plotholes and superfluous characters, and the story has a genuine heart. The writing and directing team, a potentially overstuffed trio of François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell, care about their story and the characters inhabiting it. The love for film and desire to tell this tale is genuine, and that elevates it past its many more forgettable brethren.
The film’s most successful element revolves around that of its titular character. Munro Chambers’ portrayal of The Kid is honest and surprisingly adept. He holds his own alongside the villainous Michael Ironside, although Ironside seems to be phoning this one in a bit. While the big fights, bereft with explosions and geysers of blood appear to be what the filmmakers are most excited about, the smaller moments between The Kid and Laurence Leboeuf’s Apple are what make the film more than just spurts of bombast. The two young actors craft a believable relationship that becomes the heart of the film.
Within this ode to 80s era excess is nestled this sweet coming-of-age story that manages to make the film more than just a series of winks and nods. Leboeuf especially deserves praise for, as written, Apple should be an absolute annoyance. Her unbridled positivity, forever wide-eyed expression, and permagrin are so saccharine laced as to make your teeth hurt. But Leboeuf has a charm that makes it palatable.
But let’s be honest, most people buying a ticket to Turbo Kid aren’t doing so for intriguing character development or a surprisingly sweet tale. They are throwing down their cash to see some blood, guts, and explosions. Well fear not, Turbo Kid knows its audience and comes with these gifts in spades. Blood shoots out of open wounds, whole bodies explode, there is a guy with a hand-mounted buzz saw, and an interesting new take on torture based disembowelment. More interestingly is the main character’s choice of weapon. Reading like some strange version of The Wizard that managed to grow a set of balls and be more than just an extended Nintendo commercial, it is everything a child of the 80s imagined their Power Glove could be, before it went and disappointed them.
There is no denying that what has been put forward is bonkers, fun, and often disgusting. It’s just too bad that it couldn’t be a little bit more.
Unfortunately, the trappings of the film’s style and genre keep it from being something truly great. Whole side stories seem unnecessary, and the film manages to drag on for a while past its natural conclusion. The actual moments of clarity and wonderful story building are treated like asides and filler in between the opportunities to send limbs flying. It has become the nature of this resurging beast, to put aside the elements of engaging filmmaking for something ridiculous. The story of a New Zealand arm wrestling cowboy is poorly developed and drags the film down at every turn. When the writer-directors were unsure of what to do, they just threw more at us, unaware that the smaller bits were what we were starting to care about.
At the very least Turbo Kid serves as a representation of what could be done within this style, and a warning of where it usually goes wrong. There is no denying that what has been put forward is bonkers, fun, and often disgusting. It’s just too bad that it couldn’t be a little bit more. There is something special trying to get out of Turbo Kid, but its generic distractions of the purposefully bad constantly keeps it hidden.
Turbo Kid isn’t the same as those others that aspire to one day find cult success. No, this is a movie that takes on the 80s over-the-top pastiche as a backdrop, as a way of telling the story, rather than letting it be the whole thing. [...] The love for film and desire to tell this tale is genuine, and that elevates it past its many more forgettable brethren.