Sunday, August 17, 2014


Indeed, as incredibly outlandish as fantasy thrillers go, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (*** OUT OF ****) amounts to a whole lot of far-fetched fun. The humanoid characters are pretty far out. A pet rat named Master Splinter who mimicked his Japanese master's moves and has taught himself how to be a ninja has moved to New York City where he discovers four baby turtles crawling around in a pool of radioactive slim in the sewer. Naturally, Splinter is shocked after he collects them in a coffee can, and they start talking the following day! Splinter teaches them the art of invisibility—the art of the ninja. The radioactive waste in the sewer exerts a strange, unreal effect on these turtles and they grow to ten times their size. Now, they look like over-grown midgets. Splinter names them Leonardo, Raphael, Michaelangelo, and Donatello. Of course, music video director Steve Barron and freshman film scribes Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck have adapted Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's characters and unleashed them in a crime thriller about a renegade Japanese ninja who has assembled a small army of children to steal the island of Manhattan blind. Sure, recruiting kids as criminals to steal is reminiscent of Charles Dickens' second novel "Oliver Twist."

Channel 3 television anchor lady, April O'Neil (Judith Hoag of "Armageddon"), is determined to get to the bottom of the unsolved crime wave. As the film unfolds, these youthful thieves try to steal April's purse, but Raphael comes to her rescue. Raphael ties them up and leaves them for the police to haul off. Naturally, April cannot believe her eyes after she meets the Turtles and Splinter. Now, more than ever, she wants to expose the Foot Clan, but she gets no help from frustrated N.Y.P.D Chief Stearns (Raymond Serra of "Prizzi's Honor") who brings pressure down on April's boss, Charles Pennington (Jay Patterson of "Street Smart"), to take April off the story. Stearns has arrested Pennington's larcenous son Danny (Michael Turney of "Cost of Living") who has been nabbed for stealing. Indeed, Danny is a member of this secret underworld organization. Meanwhile, April is working with them to bring the heat down on Chief Stearns. Stearns compels Charles to fire April. Splinter's arch enemy, the Shredder--the Asian equivalent in looks and voice to "Star Wars" villain Darth Vader--dispatches his American ninjas to take care of the Turtles. Shredder's abduct Splinter while April and the Turtle quartet leave the city to hide out on a remote farm out in the country. The Turtles are at a loss as to what they can do until Splinter contacts them through telepathy despite being held in chains like the Count of Monte Cristo in an abandoned factory. Leonardo congregates the other three around a campfire, and and they meditate at length. This group meditation effort enables them to conjure up Splinter's spirit, and Splinter communicates momentarily with them. Our quartet of half-shell heroes hates the fact that Splinter has been captured. Indeed, Michaelangelo grows so emotional that he cannot help but cry. A hockey stick wielding vigilante, Casey Jones (Elias Koteas of "Shutter Island"), who clashed with Raphael earlier, joins them as they battle Shredder and his ninjas. Clearly, Barron and his writers needed a real human to give April a romantic relationship. Incidentally, Casey Jones doesn't reappear in the 2014 reboot, and the origins of the Turtles is tweaked.

"Muppets" mastermind Jim Henson created Splinter and the Turtles look amusing. Splinter looks more realistic than the Turtles with their variously colored bandannas that they wear like masks. Michaelangelo has an orange bandannas, Raphael prefers the color red, Leonardo adopts blue as his color, and Donatello dresses in purple. "Entertainment Weekly" reviewer Owen Gleiberman complained in his review of the original film that the Turtles lacked personality. According to Gleiberman, only Raphael had a shred of personality. Essentially, Gleiberman is correct. Indeed, our heroes lack differentiation aside from the difference in their weapons. Raphael wields the sai, a three-pronged weapon which resembles a fork. Leonardo carries the katana, a traditional Japanese sword used in feudal Japan. Michaelangelo prefers the nunchuks, and Donatello dazzles his adversaries with a staff.

Barron doesn't malinger for a moment aside from some obvious expository bits of dialogue. The action is swift and cool. The Turtles uses some profanity, usually the word damn. The humor shines through, and the scene in April's apartment above an antiques shop when the Turtles conceal themselves from Danny and his father are amusing. Henson complained about the dark nature of the film. Juvenile delinquents smoke stogies and gamble. The Turtles like to use the D-word. The sewer sets look genuine, and Judith Hoag makes a plucky damsel-in-distress. Incidentally, aside from some Big Apple landmark shots, such as the Twin Towers in the first scene, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" was lensed largely in North Carolina by Raymond Chow's Golden Harvest studio.

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