Tuesday, 29 September 2015

FILM4 FRIGHTFEST SPECIAL — REVIEW: TURBO KID

The mid-Eighties through to the early Nineties was pretty much a golden era for sci-if/action flicks. With the post-apocalyptic genre defining Mad Max trilogy, bizarre fantasy of Highlander and cool techno-action in the form of Terminator and Robocop, not to mention daft, campy cult classics such as Jean-Claude Van Damme's Cyborg, it was THE time for leather, chrome, smoke and plenty of practical effect violence.
Now, much like the Grindhouse resurgence of the last few years, directors whose formative years included a heady mishmash of these titles are reaching an age at which they can properly pay homage to the titles that influenced them.
A few months ago we were treated to the frankly magnificent Kung Fury and, more recently, attendees at the Film4 FrightFest got to watch François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell's much-anticipated Turbo Kid, an expansion on their own T is for Turbo entry for The ABC's of Death competition. 
So is this a movie all set to give you a rush? Or is this one that'll stall?
Read on...

TURBO KID (2015)



Dir: François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell
Starring: Munro Chambers, Laurence Leboeuf, Michael Ironside, Aaron Jeffery, Edwin Wright, Romano Orzari

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk. 
The earth has been decimated by a war between man and machines, now it a place in which crops cannot grow, the water is all spoiled and acid rain lashes the earth. A cataclysmic fuel shortage leaves everybody forced to travel using bicycles. It is a dark and desolate future. It is 1997.
In this toxic wasteland we meet The Kid (Chambers) as he ekes out a living scavenging from the ruins trying to discover goods that he can barter for fresh water from Bagu (Orzari), a barkeeper in the nearby shanty town. Under the protection of arm-wrestling Aussie tough guy Frederick (Jeffery), this scrappy little settlement is just about scraping by.
However things are all set to change for The Kid when he stops for a while read his treasured Turbo Rider comic and encounters the irrepressibly cheery Apple (Leboeuf). Unable to ditch his irrepressible love interest, The Kid makes a fortuitous discovery when he chances across the body of his hero and decides to don the Turbo armour, complete with an energy-projectile shooting gauntlet.
However, this soon brings him to the attention of the tyrannical Zeus (Ironside), the one-eyed despot who controls what little water there is and enforces his will through his army of violent thugs, led by skull-masked, saw-blade slinging chief henchman, Skeletron (Wright).
Can the unlikely pair survive in a world without rules? Will the town and its folk survive Zeus's attentions? And where can I buy that awesome power ballad theme tune?



THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): A fantastic pastiche of a genre of film that has sadly fallen by the wayside, Turbo Kid's biggest strength is that it remembers to bring the fun of the movies it apes. With an absolutely gonzo plot and gleefully dire dialogue, it isn't a film that takes itself too seriously, nor is it afraid to embrace excess.
And boy, do we get excess!
From some wonderfully daft character designs (Skeletron!!!!) to a metric tonne of practical splatter effects onscreen, the directors utterly row the boat out.
With elements of movies such as Waterworld and Mad Max, combined with a real Nineties video game sensibility (something like Two Crude Dudes/Crude Busters meets Megaman) it utterly encapsulates the feel of yesteryear's very distinctive vision of tomorrow. Children of the era (such as myself) will be unable to refrain from BEAMING at the screen. Jean-Philippe Bernier's cinematography even ensures that the film looks just like the efforts of the time, while production designer Sylvain Lemaitre includes plenty of lovely little touches in the props and sets that help beam you back to the period too.
Of course, there's more to the movie than nostalgia. The story (written by Simard and the two Whissells) incorporates plenty of humour — not least through acknowledging and running with its own ridiculousness — and also gives us some nice character beats.
Chambers' The Kid is the sort of underdog hero that it's impossible not to root for, and the talented young actor shows some real skill as he gives The Kid plenty of facets along his arc.
However, as great as Chambers is, it's the very cute Leboeuf who steals the film. In a role that could easily have become an irritating, one-note flat joke, Leboeuf instead portrays Apple as adorably likeable. She gets some wonderful scenes throughout the film (including a very cool reveal along the way) and nails every one of them. I can't wait to see more of her.
In support the always brilliant Ironside delivers one of his trademark scenery-chewing, villainous roles. This is the sort of thing he could do in his sleep and he looks like he's having plenty of fun along the way.
Elsewhere the cool Jeffery provides a memorable performance as the bad-ass hero — in fact, my only complaint would be that there wasn't enough of him —while Wright delivers the goods as an iconic and suitably creepy deranged baddy. In a role without any lines that's no mean feat!
However, this is not the sort of film that people watch for compelling personal and emotional dilemmas or complex interpersonal interactions — no, what most of you will be asking is 'How much action is there? And how bloody does it get?'
The answers are 'Lots and very'.
From amusing BMX chases to extremely visceral blood-letting, by way of the awesome 'gnomestick', Turbo Kid delivers. I particularly enjoyed the devastating effect that Turbo Kid's gauntlet had on his hapless cyberpunk adversaries, while the flesh-rending final battle is certain to land a place on many on gore-fan's end-of-year highlight lists.
Finally the film's score totally connects on the level it should. Put together by cinematographer Bernier, plus Jean-Nicolas Leupi and Le Matos, it ticks every box that you'd expect a late Eighties/early Nineties actioner to provide. Synth-heavy, soft rock with a few power ballads and ludicrously jarring schmaltzy themes, then some pulse pounding simple action ditties just add to the ludicrous fun of the movie and make it as much a feast for the ears as it is for the eyes.



THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Turbo Kid is very much pitched at fans of a certain age who knew and loved the films that it so lovingly emulates. However, if you aren't somebody that loved the likes of Highlander, Replicant and Robocop, this movie may just feel like one big WTF? In fact, if you actively dislike titles such as those I've just mentioned, you're going to dislike this too. It's full of daft technobabble, very poorly explained plot points and ludicrous violence. Nobody has a conversation, they all just take turns to deliver bad-ass one liners — just like our heroes did at the tail-end of the Eighties.
If that isn't to your taste, steer clear.
However, that doesn't mean it's flawless to us fanboys either. One aspect that surprised me was how it never quite went full-on crazy with its concept, reining it in a little at times. Whether this was due to budgetary constraints or a deliberate ploy to echo a more Spielbergian vibe (bizarrely, this kiddy friendly characterisation is rife in the film — right up until said characters explode), it lacks the sheer insanity of Kung Fury or the visceral, grisly nastiness of Hobo With A Shotgun, both films with which it shares DNA. In fact, you might even be able to refer to Turbo Kid as Hobo's friendlier cousin. This might seem a strange complaint to level against a film this barking, but I really wish it had gone as full-on, balls-out barmy as something like Manborg toward the end. The final confrontation boasts gallons of red stuff but in terms of spectacle something is missing. Perhaps a more extravagant set would have helped?
Finally, I mentioned budgetary constraints earlier and it's worth revisiting these. It's worth reiterating that Turbo Kid's effects are definitely a little patchy compared to the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road, which should be expected considering the difference in budget. The sets and locations often looked cheap (quarries... lots and lots of quarries) and the actors were definitely not up to the standards of Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. Personally, I liked this as it more effectively echoed the films of the era, but those of you used to big budget Hollywood blockbusters may need to adjust your expectations accordingly.



THE VERDICT: Not quite the stone-cold cult classic that it could have been with a little more madness, Turbo Kid is still fantastic fun. It has a likeable and talented young cast plus a genre legend in the ever-reliable Ironside, never shies away from hitting the audience with tonnes of gore and makes sure that it never ever forgets to entertain. Fans of Mad Max, Cyborg and the recent retro-Grindhouse resurgence will find more than enough to love here — that it's been delivered by first time directors makes this all the more exciting.

Here's hoping for Turbo Kid Rides Again!

Turbo Kid is already out on digital release while the DVD/Blu-ray is out on 5th October. You can preorder it at Amazon here.


Read my previous Film4 Frightfest special reviews for Suspension hereThe Nightmare hereWind Walkers hereStung hereNight of the Slasher hereInvaders hereCrow Hand!!! hereWe Are Still Here hereDemonic here and The Lazarus Effect here.


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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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