Movie review: ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows, from left, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Megan Fox, as April O'Neil, Raphael, and Donatello in a scene from "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
AP | Paramount Pictures



Directed By Jonathan Liebesman

Starring Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg

Voices of Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Johnny Knoxville, Jeremy Howard, Tony Shalhoub

Rated PG-13, Fantasy, 120 minutes

In the mid-1980s Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) for the purpose of satirizing superhero comic books.

According to Wikipedia, “The concept arose from a humorous drawing sketched out by Kevin Eastman during a casual evening of brainstorming with friend Peter Laird. Using money from a tax refund, together with a loan from Eastman’s uncle, the young artists self-published a single-issue comic book intended to parody four of the most popular super heroes of the early 1980s: Marvel’s Daredevil and New Mutants, Dave Sim’s Cerebus, and Frank Miller’s Ronin.”

The duo’s concept introduced a quartet of giant talking turtles, along with their leader, a human-sized rat named Splinter. The turtles’ brains and brawn were realized because, as baby turtles in a laboratory experiment, they received frequent injections to mutate their DNA. When released from captivity into Manhattan’s sewers, the quartet remained underground, where their Ninja training was supervised by Splinter and where the injections they received were enhanced by the radioactive toxins coursing through their underground home.

Since their creation the TMNT have spawned several movies, many comic books and almost two decades of Saturday morning cartoons. Part of the appeal has been their slacker humor, an amusement barely evident here because the film focuses on young television-journalist April (Megan Fox), whose assignment to the human-interest beat fails to yield the hard-hitting stories she wants to cover.

April’s pleas for more meaningful assignments fall on her producer’s (Whoopi Goldberg) deaf ears and cause April to become the laughing stock of newsroom meetings. April has a sidekick and admirer, her cameraman Vernon (Will Arnett), who isn’t impressed by her ideas but is attracted to her curvacious body and pretty face.

Her journalism prayers are answered when a series of coincidences place April at the scene of a major crime. The syndicate responsible for the illegal activity, along with practically all of the city’s troubles, is the Foot Clan, headed by “The Shredder,” who, like many of its members, is an expert in martial arts combat.

Enter the four teenage mutant turtles, trained as ninjas by their comparatively intellectual surrogate father, Splinter the rat. Dressed in Japanese robes and voiced by Tony Shaloub, Splinter is both warm and firm — easily the film’s most involving character.

The turtle personalities break down thusly: Michelangelo (voice of Noel Fisher) wears an orange mask and sounds like a surfer dude. Raphael (Alan Ritchson) wears a red mask and is an impulsive bad boy. Donatello (Jeremy Howard) appears in a purple mask and is the techie genius. Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville) wears a blue mask and is relied upon for his good judgment. Had I not done my research, I would not have been able to distinguish between the turtle brothers who look alike and are short on dialog.

The story conspires to intertwine the history of the four turtles with April’s childhood loss of her father and with that of a high ranking baddie played by William Fichtner.

The film’s action sequences (with one exception) are mundane and overlong, failing to comment on the turtle shells that either obstruct or lend an advantage to our teen heroes. Add Fox’s nearly expressionless face and a plot so ludicrous that even children will balk, and it’s little wonder turtle soup sounds better and better.

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