[Screen It]


(2014) (Megan Fox, Will Arnett) (PG-13)

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Action: Four walking, talking turtles with martial arts skills launch a vigilante campaign against a crime syndicate that is terrorizing modern-day New York.
TV reporter April O'Neill (MEGAN FOX) yearns to do more hard-hitting stories and be respected in her profession. But the only person who believes in her is her smitten cameraman Vernon (WILL ARNETT). Her career ambitions come at a time when her home market of New York City is being terrorized by a mysterious crime syndicate known as The Foot, under the leadership of the vicious super-ninja Shredder (TOHORU MASAMUNE) and his second-in-command, Karai (MINAE NOJI).

While investigating a lead one night at the city dock, she happens upon a confrontation between Shredder's masked henchmen and a shadowy figure she perceives to be some sort of otherworldly ninja. She pursues the matter further and discovers that a four-member fighting force known as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is rising up to take on the Foot. They include the leader-in-training, Leonardo (PETE PLOSZEK); the team's tech guru, Donatello (JEREMY HOWARD); the surly rogue, Raphael (ALAN RITCHSON), who's always threatening to leave the group; and silly romantic Michelangelo (NOEL FISHER), who falls head over heels in love with April.

For years, they have secretly trained in the sewers of Manhattan under the guidance of their master, mutated lab rat Splinter (DANNY WOODBURN, voice of TONY SHALHOUB). Now that April has uncovered their identities, though, they are forced into the spotlight and must do battle with Shredder; The Foot; and their evil corporate backer, Eric Sacks (WILLIAM FICHTNER), who wants to poison the city with a gas and make billions manufacturing the antidote from the Ninja Turtles' mutated blood.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
The "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" represent the first time I was ever out of step with pop culture. I was a teenager throughout the 1980s and always, ALWAYS up on the latest in TV, movies, music, fashions, fads, and so forth. But there I was in early 1989, a college student at the tail end of the decade, at a party. We paired off in teams of twos and decided to play charades. As it turns out, my partner drew "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." I had honestly NEVER heard of 'em. They were an afternoon cartoon at that point, building in popularity, but so not in my 19-year-old wheelhouse.

I just remember my partner, a guy named Mike, frantically trying to get me to say the title. I knew it was four words, and I couldn't get the first one. But I actually did get "Ninja" pretty easy. I even got "Mutant." This dude was a Theatre major as it turned out. Then, miraculously, I got "Turtles." But at that point, after yelling out "Turtles," I followed it with "Turtles?!?!" "Ninja ... mutant ... turtles?" The other teams were laughing their A double S'es off. When my time expired, the entire room said in unison: "TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES!!!"

But then the craze really took off, a feature-film was put into production, and it would go on to gross $135 million in 1990 dollars. It was a fun, slight franchise, whose movie was made instantly endearing by the stellar job Jim Henson's workshop did on the animatronic costumes and puppetry they employed for the film. I actually remember some parents at the time who were a bit ticked at the film's violent content and dark, almost noirish take on what had mostly been after-school kiddie fare to that point. But overall reviews were positive, the 8- and 9-year-olds loved it, and we were all saying things like "Kowabunga!" and "I love being a TURTLE!"

Flash forward 24 years later. Michael Bay now has his hands on the property, the Ninja Turtles are computer-generated, and their reboot film is rated PG-13 for violence. The new film is still made for 8- and 9-year-olds ... unfortunately, it's for those who were 8 and 9 in 1990! This is a mostly grim, frantic, and quite brutal reimagining of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," folks, that has little faith in its own legend, characters, or established mythology. Bay and Co. believe that more is more, so we get CGI-assisted martial arts acrobatics that are ridiculous in their complexity and, for the most part, shot shaky-cam, hand-held style that will have your eyeballs tearing up from the abuse (as they squint through your dark 3-D glasses).

The Ninja Turtles -- leader Leonardo, rogue Raphael, techy Donatello, and lovesick Michelangelo -- are even marginalized in their own movie. It's extremely hard to tell them apart at least half of the time, and we just spend enough time with them to get to know their personalities or for them to even have even two-dimensional personalities. The film's best moments are actually not when director Jonathan Liebesman is having them fall off of mountains or skyscrapers and miraculously survive. It's when he stops the mayhem and just has them razz each other and be playful.

The film is really the story of reporter April O'Neill, played by Megan Fox who has somehow gotten back in Bay's good graces after likening him to Der Fuhrer and losing out on the last couple of "Transformers" flicks. April is one of those fluff TV reporters who yearns to be taken seriously as a journalist. We also learn that the turtles and their mentor, the rodent Splinter, were once her childhood pets and her father was a scientist doing experiments on them to find a serum that will cause instant healing and regeneration in humans. He was killed for his research, and it's affected her ever since.

Flash-forward 15 or so years later, and New York City is gripped with a crime wave run by an evil syndicate known as The Foot. This causes the now-mutated Ninja Turtles to emerge from their sewer martial arts training and fight the good fight. April and her trusty cameraman, Vernon (a wasted Will Arnett), smell an exclusive.

I am tempted to say that "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is a movie only an 8-year-old would enjoy. But I wouldn't show it to an 8-year-old. And those who were in attendance at my recent preview screening were openly questioning the film's logic gaps both during the flick and in the lobby afterwards. For instance, we first meet April and Vernon doing a report on the first day of Spring in New York City and how people want to get in shape for the warmer weather. A few scenes later, April is out at the main bad guy's suburban mansion and it's at the top of a snowy mountain! It's a veritable winter wonderland there.

The Turtles and Splinter make a big deal out of the fact that they must remain a secret so they can adequately dispense their vigilante justice. But the climactic battle with the evil Shredder on top of a Midtown skyscraper with a communications tower that is dangling over the edge would elicit all sorts of news chopper footage, not to mention the ton of iPhones and other portable devices that would snap pics and video once the action goes street level. And if the Turtles really want to remain hidden, where's the logic in showing up late in the film in a tricked-out truck with surround sound and a rocket launcher on its top?!

The film is all about jittery action, obvious product placement, and contemptible behavior. You're better off showing your kids a late-night Cinemax film than this. I was impressed by a chase down a snowy mountainside that goes on way too long. But other than that, give me the old Henson creations and all of the limitations that went with that more innocent time in filmmaking. At least back then, the screenwriters had to come up with actual dialogue and story beats. This rates no more than a 3 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed August 6, 2014 / Posted August 8, 2014

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