Friday, June 3, 2016
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows" would almost be a quality picture if it weren't for the undeniable and overwhelming sense of incompetence that surrounds its production. Director Dave Green (who brought us the pedestrian and apathetic "Earth to Echo") and writers Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec pay homage to a sizable portion of "Turtles" lore (this includes the live-action films as well as the original animated program), and yet they still cannot comprehend what makes these four heroes so lovable in the first place. Have they no feel for cinema? This is a franchise that desperately needs to recede from public view and fast.
But that's the troubling part, isn't it? No matter how brain dead the movie, audiences will continue to flock toward it like moths to a flame. You don't have to be educated in film technique or theory to know that this is a poor exercise in filmmaking.
Ironically, it is not the subject matter here that exudes culpability. (The plot-oriented mentality of the picture appears to be one of the few saving graces; the story, although lacking in profundity, is viable.) No, what troubles "Out of the Shadows" are a fistful of performances that come off as completely untextured and an inane display of dialogue that becomes so mind-numbingly dumb and manufactured that one can almost foresee any succeeding spoken line. (The majority of the latter comes directly from our sole leading lady in Megan Fox who, I think, has lost every ounce of her box-office appeal—I'm sure that 14-year-old boys still consider the young actress to be an ideal example of chewing gum for the eyes, yet her dumbed-down approach to acting has finally run its course.)
The rundown: After failing to annihilate the citizens of New York City and after plans for global domination were predictably derailed, the diabolical Shredder once again finds himself in a position to take over the world. (What else are bad guys supposed to do, anyhow?) He enlists the help of Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), a mad scientist obsessed with historical fame and destruction, and the ever-blundering Bebop and Rocksteady, and this inevitably leads to an unfavorable, repetitive use of situational irony—our cold-blooded protagonists fail to mar even a single villainous plotting, that is, of course, until the short-lived and stodgy climactic scene—and to several action sequences consisting entirely of extravagant explosions and over-the-top special effects à la Michael Bay.
April O'Neil meddles, Leonardo and Raphael inescapably quarrel and appearances by Casey Jones and the evil Krang only remind us of the franchise's finer efforts. (Although "Turtle" fanatics might swoon over the inclusion of these beloved characterizations, the wonderment affixed to such dealings can never detract attention from the film's second-rate air.)
Be that as it may, it's not all doom and gloom when it comes to this latest "Turtles" installment: The minimalized approach to the designs of the characters (specifically the Shredder, who went from an oversized can opener to a convincing villain here) is a nice adjustment from the first film; the fast-paced action of the diegesis does well to disguise the picture's more dismaying aspects. Essentially, it is a comedic undertone and the inability to cash in on a theme concerned with acceptance that ultimately makes "Out of the Shadows" a deplorable addition to what can be considered a washed-up franchise at this point. (The film is obviously too comical for its own good. As for the theme, we are routinely bombarded with conversations and motifs regarding the turtles' wish to be socially accepted, yet when the opportunity presents itself, the picture decides to neglect its message in favor of, well, nothing really.)
Here is a franchise that needs to regroup. The original feature portraying these "Heroes in a Half Shell" succeeded because of its poignancy, and those four reptiles actually had miens that were as fetching as they were spot on. My bet is that if this spirit were to be rekindled, then I'm sure we would have a product worth rooting for.
When the smoke clears, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows" will simply become another summer box-office smash, and, unfortunately, some will see it purely as mindless entertainment. So, why the harsh criticism? I mean, the film doesn't pretend to be what it isn't (this is a phrase I've used generously over the years), and some would say that it entertains more often than not. Even vapid entertainment should have some defining characteristics about it, and it is this deficiency that must be corrected if these "Turtles" ever plan on returning to their glory days.