Film Reviews

MECHANICAL EYE – <i>Turbo Kid</i> (2015)

MECHANICAL EYE – Turbo Kid (2015)

Claire Graman

August 28th, 2015

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Do we need another superhero film? The answer doesn’t matter, of course. They’re going to keep coming. A sure-fire win as old as Gilgamesh. But why? Unlike many similar films, Turbo Kid grapples with this question with utter love for its own ridiculousness, revealing the superhero for the silly, adolescent fantasy he is, but asserting the value in myth and play.

Set in a post-apocalyptic parallel universe, Turbo Kid follows an unnamed teenage boy (Munro Chambers), who survives by scavenging for tradable items and his beloved Turbo Rider comic books. When he teams up with a mysterious pixie dream girl (Laurence Leboeuf) and a foul-mouthed cowboy (Aaron Jeffery), the stage is set for an indie action adventure, as the trio take on a sadistic warlord named Zeus (Michael Ironside).

Disproving the adage about cooks in the kitchen, the film’s three writer-actor-directors (Anouk Whissell, François Simard, and Yoann-Karl Whissell) pull off an amazing balancing act of comedy and drama. While many films keep jokes safely sequestered where they won’t interfere with narrative tension, Turbo Kid’s humor is never far from any moment. For example, the visuals undercut many a dramatic chase scene, with adult actors riding children’s bicycles. As for the violence … let’s just say Tarantino would be proud. Yet these jokes stay fresh and preserve the dramatic tension. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, but more so, Turbo Kid follows the pacing and plot of any action film you’ve seen, while still feeling new and original.

With the exception of Zeus (who closely resembles Malcolm McDowell’s villain in Tank Girl), the characters replicate the tone of the film, by both parodying and reveling in their stereotypes to make the familiar new. The rugged Jeffery plays his character as though he just wandered off the Australian outback and onto the set. This lone cowboy, as well as comic book hero Turbo Rider, represent models of masculinity and heroism for our unnamed protagonist, but both fall short in one way or another. The main character (the only straight man in a cast of clowns) shows that one can still be a hero even if he occasionally cries, doubts himself, plays with toys, and feels fear. Chambers portrayal of vulnerable determination provides the dash of realism needed to hold the film together. Labeouf, meanwhile, makes her manic pixie dream girl sincere yet uncanny, with an omnipresent smile in the face of brutal violence and suffering, nicely playing with the controversial trope by showing how artificial it is.

The directors also nail aesthetics — an accomplishment all the more admirable given their limited budget. Apparently shot in winter, the familiar sight of dead trees and grey skies easily serve as a plausible post-nuclear wasteland. The hodgepodge costumes not only look amazing, but also convey character, while touches of colorful, never-smeared make-up add just the right amount of comic book-esque surrealism. The props, such as lawn decorations converted to weapons and household appliances to torture devices, also convey the dark whimsy of Turbo Kid’s world. Finally, the synth-heavy soundtrack brings just the right air of nostalgia. Like the Nintendo games and after-school cartoons of childhood, Turbo Kid maintains its remarkable paradox — being both trivial and laughable, but also sincerely wondrous and important.

That being said, the film still has its flaws. Its writing never establishes the rules of this parallel world, so certain plot developments (which I won’t spoil here) come out of left field. The resulting narrative gaps aren’t important, but are noticeable. Meanwhile, non-white characters appear only as menacing henchmen and -women. And finally, the film lacks real depth, aside from its wisdom of self-parody. But, like its titular hero, Turbo Kid never tries to be more than it is, and most importantly, it remembers how to have fun, something many more expensive films seem to have forgotten.

Turbo Kid continues its run at the Bijou Metro. Click here for showtimes.

Claire Graman is an English PhD candidate at the University of Oregon. She studies history, film, and when the two collide. Mechanical Eye is an irregular column in which she provides critical analyses of films screening locally.

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