Turbo

We’ve been taking a lot of sinus decongestants and I kinda wanted to do something completely effortless… so I watched some animated movies!  I haven’t really been keeping up with the animation scene, but today I watched two relatively recent ones: Turbo and Despicable Me 2.

Despicable Me lived up to its predecessor in that it had supervillains hatching ridiculous plots, crazy ray guns and gadgets, and low IQ minions.  All the humour was spot-on, and the plot was dumb, but enjoyable mostly because the timing of the writing was excellent.

Turbo was terrible.

The interesting thing about that is that it follows a very familiar “underdog” formula.  A down on it’s luck [blank] falls on hard times and decides to follow its dream of [blank], making new friends and learning valuable moral lessons along the way.  In this case the [blank]s are “snail” and “win the Indy 500”.

I am going to paste this quote out of Wikipedia (without checking to see if it’s properly sourced or anything first. I’m living dangerously!):
“For me, it was less about trying to make a racing movie and more about finding an underdog that I could really latch onto. I think that a snail is inherently an underdog. It’s smashed, eaten by people, the butt of slow jokes around the world. It just seemed loaded with obstacles. Obviously, the opposite of slow is fast, and that’s where racing came into the picture.”

That’s it.  That’s the extent of the writing in this movie.  “People like underdogs.  Snails are slow, and fast is the opposite of slow – let’s have a snail win the Indy 500!”  Usually the writing in these things is clever enough to hide the formula a little bit, but in this case the movie is like “eh, he gets splashed with nitrous oxide and that lets him move at 230mph.  The kids won’t realize how dumb that is, don’t worry.”  It also installed LED lights that leave a trail behind him, his eyes are headlamps, there are blinkers in his butt, a stereo he turns on by banging his eyes together, and an alarm he can’t figure out how to turn off.

It was really dumb, and this is immediately after I praised a movie which contains yellow minions wielding fart guns. It’s all about suspension of disbelief, man.  Of course a supervillain is going to have yellow minions and they’re going to create fart guns!  It’s a natural step in the progression!  Dumping a snail in nitrous is only going to result in a dead snail.  You could at least say it’s some sort of super experimental thing someone was working on in order to create a super car, but they just couldn’t get it working until whoops, a snail fell in and it looks like the formula only works when combined with living tissue!  See, I’ve already written a better movie, and it’s still really stupid.

This is all completely ignoring the fact that once he gains super magic racing powers and sets a world speed record, he is no longer the god damn underdog.

It wasn’t even just that, though.  All of the characters were terribly written, which is probably tied directly to the fact that no real worldbuilding occurs.  The snail colony at the beginning is full of non-characters who do nothing but belittle Turbo for having a hobby.  The only purpose for any of it seems to be to set up a transparent “never give up on your dreams” morality lesson (and maybe hopefully a “don’t bully people like those dicks are doing” lesson), except that in this case the dream is fulfilled by somehow gaining magic powers, which is maybe not the best lesson for the little ones.  The “working at the plant” joke was something that they clearly thought was pretty clever (evidenced by the long pause and camera pull-out to reveal the plant.  ho ho ho it’s a literal plant, get it?), but it was hollow because they didn’t spend any time doing any worldbuilding in the garden.  You realize why worldbuilding is so threadbare when you realize the movie is split between three different locations, none of which are lingered in long enough for any building to occur.  Just as we start to figure out who these characters in the garden are, everything is whisked off to a new location and we lose track of them.  The “racing snails” are hastily introduced about halfway through the movie, not developed whatsoever, then go with Turbo to the race and proceed to do absolutely nothing important or even interesting (my god how did they get Samuel L. Jackson in on this?).  The only character that has any development at all is probably the driver that Turbo idolizes, and that’s only because he turns into the villain so he’s there throughout all of these locations.  Then we have Turbo’s brother who spends the entire movie being negative as shit and completely unproductive (he witnesses his brother moving at 230mph and still does nothing but whine about what a waste of time it is to try to do anything with it), making you want to punch him in the face. Then he makes a crazy about-face at the very very end, just when everything seems bleakest.  Man oh man I did not see that twist coming.  I still want to punch him in the face.

You know what would have helped immensely?  Just cut the whole garden from the plot.  Start at the mini-mall with the racing snails as a diversion in the back.  Suddenly Turbo has a reason to be into NASCAR, he has a reason to want to be faster, it doesn’t take an amazing amount of serendipity for him to be randomly picked up by some guy who happens to race snails, we have more time to develop the supporting cast…. dunking him in Nitrous is still really stupid but the rest of the movie would at least support it better.

There’s a big difference between a plot that’s written to appeal to children, and a plot that’s dumped out because kids won’t notice the difference.  Your kids might like this movie… in fact they probably will like it.  But there are so many cleverly written movies nowadays that appeal to children, teach them things (without being sappy as shit), AND contain humour that still appeals to adults… that’s the standard that movies should be trying to reach.  Turbo is just an unfortunate cash-in attempt.

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Here Comes the Boom

I could probably end this review with one sentence: “Surprisingly not shitty!”

My husband wanted to watch something “stupid” so I said “Hey there’s a new Kevin James movie!”.  Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t all that stupid and we actually enjoyed it, but it really doesn’t do anything unique or unexpected.  If you read any blurb about the plot you probably know what’s going to happen well enough that you could just skip seeing it, unless this is like, the first movie you have ever seen.

The plot follows a teacher at what might be the worst high school ever (…or… is it average. Sigh.)  There are a lot of thrown away plot points here which I thought was kind of odd.  He’s lazy and slacking off at his job, coming in late, sleeping through class instead of teaching, whining about being penalized for it, constantly reminding people he was teacher of the year once… none of that really matters for the movie and it’s kind of annoying, really.  The movie plot actually begins when they have a staff meeting where it is announced there are a bunch of cutbacks and the music program is being shut down as a result.  After some protesting, they are told it’s going to cost 48,000 to keep the program so it’s not happening unless you pull money out of your ass.

So, naturally, they go pull some money out of their ass.  A series of side jobs leads Kevin James’ character to try MMA fighting, because a loss in the UFC is worth 10k a piece, and who can’t lose a fight, right??

It’s mostly generic, but there are some funny moments.  [Spoiler Alert] The movie goes full out Disney when his class (which he constantly abuses throughout the film, except for like, one class where he bothers to teach them some dubious information about cells in an amusing manner, so it’s somewhat of a mystery why they end up liking him so much all of a sudden) rallies around him and gives him the strength to carry on and all that kind of shit.  Shockingly enough (oh man you’ll never see this twist coming!), he gets a random offer to go fight in the UFC!  And you’ll never guess what happens next!!!
[Seriously – Spoiler Alert] In case you can’t guess, just before the fight he only needs 8k to save the music program, so the loss will do it for him.  Then he finds out that some asshole embezzled all the money he’s raised so far so he needs 48k to save the music program.  Winning gives him 50k.  OH MY GOODNESS WHAT WILL HAPPEN?  Will the power of love and friendship prevail over the years of hardened training and experience that this UFC champion opponent has accrued?!??!  [Spoiler alert – it does.  /hurk]

I’m pretty convinced there’s just a blank template somewhere that a writer can go fill in the blanks and submit as a screenplay.  “[Character] is a down on his/her luck [Profession]____ who needs to raise $____ in order to save his/her beloved ____, so they begin training for ____ and just when you think they’re going to fail and lose everything, _____ inspires them and AGAINST ALL THE ODDS….”

It wasn’t a waste of a couple of hours but don’t expect a whole lot from it.