In animation shorthand, Turbo is "Cars with snails." It's light on the jokes, but cute, with animation so vivid it looks photo-real.
It's another "impossible dream" tale, this time of a motorhead mollusk with a need for "terrifying, blinding speed."
Theo (Ryan Reynolds) is a garden snail obsessed with auto racing who longs to escape his colony of tomato munchers. The occasional terror by a Big Wheel-riding tyke nicknamed "Shell Crusher" and the odd assault by crows is the only excitement in this overly organized, limited world.
He watches races on TV and works hard to improve his time over the measured yard — 17 minutes is a personal best.
Speed? "It's in me," declares Theo, who prefers the nickname "Turbo."
"It's not," says his brother Chet (Paul Giamatti), who knows what he's talking about. "Not every dream is meant to come true."
Turbo is constantly taking risks that are sure to shorten his life, and sometimes even he can see that. Dejected, he slimes his way to the dry bed of the Los Angeles River, where he's caught up in some drag racing and is sucked into the turbocharger of a nitrous oxide-boosted Camaro.
Darned if he isn't transformed into the World's Fastest Snail, sliming a literal blue streak down L.A. streets and up L.A. walls.
Darned if a Latino taco maker (Michael Peña) doesn't enter Turbo in his rundown strip mall's nightly snail races. Darned if Turbo doesn't chew up the souped-up local snails, led by Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson) and including Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg).
And darned if that doesn't have the taco maker and his fellow failing small business owners (Ken Jeong of The Hangover voices a nail parlor operator, Richard Jenkins a hobby shop owner and Michelle Rodriguez an auto body shop operator) thinking Indianapolis 500.
The first big laughs arrive when Jackson's character purrs that Turbo has "clearly got the skills to pay the bills ... if snails had bills." Bill Hader vamps up the French Indy car champ who inspires Turbo but who could not bear to lose to a snail in the Brickyard.
The situations are more amusing than the dialogue and Jeong's shrieking one-liners. As vivid as the race scenes are — zooming over, through and under Indy cars — if we want to watch photo-real auto-racing we can turn on the TV.
So while small children might be enchanted by this little gastropod that could, adults will be sorely tested. For all the horsepower Turbo boasts about, the movie tends toward the sluggish — as in "slow as a slug."
PG for some mild action and thematic elements. DreamWorks/Fox. 1:35. 2D: Frankfort, Winchester; drive-ins: Harrodsburg, Paris, Winchester. 2D and 3D: Fayette Mall, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholasville, Richmond, Woodhill.