Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
The animated character of intrepid reporter April O’Neil in the 1980s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series was an unlikely, vaguely inappropriate hottie, so when it came time to cast a real-life actress for this part, who better than the cartoonishly hot Megan Fox?
Sadly, that masterstroke is about as good as the new live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gets. Michael Bay is on board as a producer, and whereas Fox earned career points for dropping out of Bay’s blockheaded Transformers series after the second film, she has now lost them for leaping back into his employ. Perhaps worse, Jonathan Liebesman is at the helm; his last two movies were Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans, two prime examples of moronic yet suffocatingly serious action films. Perhaps the best that can be said for Turtles is that it at least drops the seriousness. (That, and it’s much better than Transformers: Age of Extinction.)
This is the fifth official Turtles movie, in addition to numerous TV shows and video games, and it starts the story over again. Our four mutant ninjas, Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello, have been raised in the sewers by their master, a mutant rat called Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub). They’re not supposed to surface, but they do so when the evil organization known as the Foot Clan takes some hostages in a subway.
This leads to the “secret” villain—and as soon as you see his face, you’ll know who he is—re-engaging his plan to inflict all of New York City with a terrible disease, and then suddenly turning up with the cure (which is in the Turtles’ bloodstream). This plan will make him “stupid rich,” but the key word there is not “rich.”
Liebesman pitches everything at a kind of constant thrum. Jokes, fights, character development and crucial plot twists are all hurled at the camera like a howling hurricane. The concepts of rhythm, storytelling or rest periods seem completely alien to him. Not even funnyman Will Arnett is given space or time to get a decent one-liner across.
If that’s not enough, the Turtles have now been designed to look more “realistic,” i.e., less cartoonish. But now they’re also less adorable, less comical. They look, frankly, kind of creepy. The original Turtles first appeared, in comic book form, back in 1984, and if the new movie serves any purpose, it makes those original stories and cartoons, and even the first 1990 movie, seem rather brilliant by comparison.