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"TURBO"
(2013) (voices of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Action: A garden snail who dreams of racing in the Indy 500 gets his wish through a series of extraordinary circumstances.
PLOT:
Turbo (voice of RYAN REYNOLDS) is a garden snail who has literally moved at a snail's pace all of his life. But he dreams of having great speed and even racing in the Indy 500 one day -- a dream his pessimistic brother, Chet (voice of PAUL GIAMATTI), constantly tries to squash. Most days, they and the other snails do their best to avoid landscapers' lawn mowers and the naughty neighborhood Big Wheel Boy (voice of AIDAN ANDREWS) who lives only to crush bugs under his tricycle. During one night of despair, Turbo crawls away from the vegetable garden where he and the other snails live. Through a series of misadventures and close calls with oncoming traffic, he winds up in the engine of a nitrous-fueled drag racing car. He emerges changed and can suddenly run at speeds of over 200 miles an hour.

He and Chet are discovered by Tito (voice of MICHAEL PENA), who operates a taco business with his sensible brother, Angelo (voice of LUIS GUZMAN), but dreams of getting rich quick. He convinces the other business owners of a local strip mall - hobby shop owner, Bobby (voice of RICHARD JENKINS); auto-body shop operator, Paz (voice of MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ); and nail salon guru, Kim-Ly (voice of KEN JEONG) - to help him fund Turbo's entry into the Indy 500.

Turbo is also helped by a misfit crew of snails who fashion themselves his pit crew. There is the leader, Whiplash (voice of SAMUEL L. JACKSON); Burn (voice of MAYA RUDOLPH), who takes a liking to Chet; friendly rivals Smoove Move (voice of SNOOP DOGG) and Skid Mark (BEN SCHWARTZ); and the White Shadow (voice of MICHAEL PATRICK BELL), who believes he has stealth powers (but he really doesn't). Once at the Indy 500, Turbo is instantly challenged by his idol, Guy Gagne (voice of BILL HADER), a champion driver who does not want to share the spotlight.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
I think "Turbo" is the most pleasant surprise of the 2013 summer movie season. It is a smart, funny, involving animated action flick that surprised me by how grounded in the real world it is despite an admittedly goofy premise. The film centers on the title character (voice of Ryan Reynolds), a garden snail who wishes he had great speed. Actually, he dreams of one day racing in race car races, a crazy aspiration that brings him into conflict with his pessimistic brother, Chet (voice of Paul Giamatti), and the dozens of other snails who work and live in a suburban California homeowner's vegetable garden.

Fed up with his humdrum existence, Turbo ventures out of the neighborhood one evening and marvels at the speeding traffic on a nearby highway. Through a series of misadventures, he winds up in a "Fast & Furious"-like drag race where he is sucked into the nitrous-fueled engine of one racer. He emerges changed, suddenly possessing great racing speed.

He is soon discovered by Tito (voice of Michael Pena), a good-hearted young man who runs a taco business with his overly pragmatic brother, Angelo (voice of Luis Guzman). The two are kindred spirits, as Tito also has big dreams of striking it rich one day. He soon discovers Turbo's amazing power, and the plucky snail is able to give him the idea of entering him in the Indy 500.

There are a dozen different ways this movie could have failed. Chiefly, its main plot. A snail racing in the Indy 500? No car? How could spectators see him? How could TV cameras pick him up? The visual solution arrived at in the film is simple. Turbo leaves a neon blue streak behind him whenever he runs. So, it is always clear where the tiny snail is in relation to the big, imposing race cars on the track. But it's more than that. There are several times during the course of the film where the characters simply acknowledge how ludicrous Turbo and Tito's dream is. The script has characters who doubt he can do it. It indeed gives Turbo a brother who frets over his safety and refuses to watch him race out of fear that he will see him die. That's good, simple writing.

I also liked that Turbo gave us three distinct worlds and made them feel very real. The first act of the film is set in that suburban vegetable garden, and it's basically a big workplace for the snails with a demanding foreman, a system of operations, lunch breaks, periodic safety meetings, and so forth. The various threats to the snail's way of life - the random crow swooping in, the neighborhood kid who rides his Big Wheel nearby, Gardener Day - are clever and not overplayed.

Then, Turbo and Chet move out of their element and inhabit Tito and Angelo's world during the second act of the film. The two human brothers operate a failing taco business in a rundown strip shopping center in Van Nuys, Calif. The animation in this section of the film is just terrific, a bit similar to the downtrodden Radiator Falls of the first "Cars" movie, but with more of a gritty, urban feel.

The third act is where the animators and storytellers get to show off, taking the action to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I like the efficiency of storytelling in this last act of the film. I wrote earlier that the film is surprisingly rooted in the real world, and that's especially true in this stretch when a little logic is absolutely needed to counter the illogic of a snail taking the pole position.

Case in point, I love how social media and YouTube comes into play in Turbo being able to skirt the Indy 500 eligibility rules and gain entry into the race. I also enjoyed the great job Bill Hader does in voicing the egotistical French racing champion Guy Gagne, even though he is a rip-off of the Sacha Baron Cohen character from "Talladega Nights."

Yes, the premise is ridiculous. But sometimes the most memorable films feature nutty story hooks that really shouldn't work. A farmer hears a voice that tells him to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield, and the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson shows up. A runt pig is raised by dogs and embarks on a career in sheepherding. A puppeteer takes a boring job as a file clerk and discovers an office portal that takes him literally into the mind of actor John Malkovich.

Those were all nutty, nutty stories that could never have worked unless executed by filmmakers with a clear vision of story and character. Now, "Turbo" will probably never be mentioned in the same breath as "Field of Dreams," "Babe," and "Being John Malkovich." But the film works, and it really shouldn't have. I enjoyed it very much and give it a 7 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed July 13, 2013 / Posted July 17, 2013


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