'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles': The battle for New York

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceAugust 7, 2014 

  • MOVIE REVIEW

    'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'

    ★★☆☆☆

    PG-13 for sci-fi action violence. Paramount/Nickelodeon. 1:40. 2D only: Winchester, Winchester Skyvue. 2D and 3D: Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholasville, Richmond, Woodhill.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles earns a Michael Bay-produced 3-D reboot that spares no expense in special effects and spares no decibel in the volume that is the soundtrack to all their new mayhem.

These digitally animated super-size turtles have real-world presence and weight, stomping onto the scene like teenagers who haven't learned to do anything quietly. Their brawls with their trigger-happy foes from the Foot Clan are a blur of body blows and bullets. Their wise-cracks are up-to-date, their love of pizza unabated.

Their human friend is a fluff-friendly TV reporter played by Megan Fox. So yeah, Bay gave this production the full Transformers treatment. It's entirely too violent, but teenage turtles armed with ninja swords, knives and nunchucks have always been violent, from their origins in the 1980s comic books to assorted TV series and the films of the '90s and an animated flop of 2007.

The new film, directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Battle Los Angeles) quickly and gracefully handles the back story — a lab experiment and a fire — and puts shapely TV reporter April O'Neil (Fox) on their case right from the start.

The Foot Clan, led by the mysterious megalomaniac Shredder (voiced by Danny Woodburn) is trying to take over New York. But these masked vigilantes keep foiling their plans.

April starts to piece together a puzzle that points to her own past, the man her scientist father was in business with (William Fichtner) and the "mutagen" and other chemicals they were toying with.

The heroes are masked ninjas, mutant turtles who grew huge, learned English and trained in martial arts with the inscrutable rat Splinter (Tony Shalhoub). Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello and Leonardo only occasionally act like teenagers, usually in their banter.

April cannot convince her boss (Whoopi Goldberg) that she's not crazy. And her on-the-make cameraman (Will Arnett, toned down and not nearly funny enough) is also a hard-sell regarding these "heroes on a half-shell."

The animated rat has a much bigger role in this film than is usual for this series, and the animators give Splinter a few cute tricks to pull off with his tale, and an Asian martial arts master's long, thin goatee.

The action beats are bigger and better than they've ever been in a Ninja Turtle film — brawls, shootouts, a snowy car-and-truck chase with big explosions and what not.

But between those scenes is an awful lot of chatter and exposition. For a film that aims younger (save for the die-hards who grew up with this franchise), that's deadly dull.

And Fox, emoting as if her "comeback" depended on this, plays it all straight, which tends to rob the film of needed-playfulness.

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