For the sake of full disclosure, I am of the age where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a huge part of my childhood. I owned the action figures, watched the TV show, played the video games and owned the VHS of the movie (and even the corny concert video, too). I have a distinct memory of making my family wait in line outside the Beaucatcher to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991). I was waist-deep in turtles, but that was a long, long time ago. What’s left of my nostalgia has long run dry, and the idea that a Ninja Turtles reboot — complete with Michael Bay producing it and giant, musclebound turtle-men now with nostrils and lips (sensual, sensual lips) — could somehow offend my delicate sensibilities or ruin my childhood is simply not a possibility. All that said, the movie’s still garbage, in large part because of Bay’s involvement, and not because of nostrils (though they are a part of a larger issue with the movie, but more on that later). With this movie, director Jonathan Liebesman — who’s already got a history of making junk like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006) — has shot up the ranks of Hollywood’s biggest hacks. This is really a Bay film. It walks and talks like a Bay film, from the color pallette to the aggressive, almost obscene camera movement, not to mention the jokey dialogue, the abrasive action scenes that go on far too long and even the trademark sweeping shot of a sunset. From the product placement to the fart jokes, the only thing keeping this from not being a wholly Michael Bay film is a running time that actually feels reasonable and not totally soul crushing. These are only some of the problems. Going beyond, Liebesman has no idea what the movie should be. On one hand, it’s a loving homage, full of hokey in-jokes. Other times, it’s almost ashamed of what it is — a movie about, well, teenage mutant ninja turtles — and constantly wants to remind the audience that it’s better than its silly premise. Liebesman expects you to have both a working knowledge of the Ninja Turtles as a pop culture entity while trying to set up all this nonsense in the most laborious way possible. It takes 20 minutes for our four titular heroes to actually be revealed, but why? We know what’s going on; it’s in the damn title. To top all of this off, the movie’s crammed with needless CGI that’s visually overwhelming. While giving these characters nostrils, for instance, isn’t a big deal, it is a symptom of busying up the character design to the point that it’s nearly impossible to tell what’s happening on screen. It’s symptomatic of Bay’s whole hyperactualized “more is more” mindset. Not only is the CGI cartoony and distracting (say what you will about guys in rubber suits in the original 1990 film, but at least they existed), but the characters themselves are covered in tons of accessories and baubles. They’re a complicated eyesore, which just so happens to describe the movie itself. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence.
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