If one’s going to be allowed to indulge in the fantasy of a snail tearing around the track at the Indianapolis 500, they one’s also going to be asked to endure the cynicism that allows an animated kids’ flick to be plastered with all of the product placement associated with “the greatest spectacle in racing.” (It seems that one’s never too young to be a potential Firestone customer.) The prevailing sense with Turbo is that it’s overly calculated while receiving none of the basic care and attention it requires in order to thrive.
The aforementioned mollusk is Turbo (Ryan Reynolds, no more animated as a cartoon), who’s initially found toiling in a suburban garden while daydreaming about racing neck-and-neck with French-Canadian driver Guy Gagné (Bill Hader, offering a tamer take on Sacha Baron Cohen’s character in Talladega Nights). And while Turbo’s older brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti), sympathetically counsels him that “maybe not all dreams are meant to come true,” voices of reason exist only to be ridiculed in fare such as this.
Turbo receives his equivalent of a radioactive spider bite when he’s bathed in nitrous oxide while hanging out in a deleted scene from a certain fast and furious franchise. Suddenly able to top 200 mph without breaking a slimy sweat, Turbo adopts the philosophy that with great power comes absolutely no responsibility. Hellbent on racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he convinces taco truck operator, Tito (Michael Peña), and several other small business owners to pool their meager savings (and steal cash from their loved ones) in order to pay his entry fee.
While the climactic race will undoubtedly be the pay-off for younger viewers (even if they have a sneaking suspicion of how it’ll predictably play out), it’s the film’s earliest sequences that show the most ambition. Having paid his dues with cut-rate Madagascar television and direct-to-video spinoffs, director David Soren initially displays some ambitious aims with the bigger budget and larger canvas he’s been offered here.
Quite literally operating at a snail’s pace, the opening scenes possess both patience and fluidity that stand in stark contrast to the franticness of the recently released Epic. The snails’ intricate tomato-harvesting methods lend a goofy tone that’s all but drowned out once the engines start revving. Soren also cleverly addresses how speed can be an extremely relative thing. What’s a blazing pace from the snails’ point-of-view registers as a barely perceptible crawl when we switch to a human’s perspective.
Unfortunately, there’s no conceivable vantage point from which the movie’s legion of celebrity-voiced supporting characters could be seen in a favorable light. Uniformly unfunny, these excuses to produce more tie-in toys also lean heavily on stereotypes with Ken Jeong—performing in animated drag as an elderly asian manicurist—proving to be the worst offender. (That said, some older viewers will be more aggrieved by Samuel L. Jackson lampooning some of his Pulp Fiction dialogue.)
Perhaps the biggest question raised by Turbo is precisely what Robert D. Siegel contributed to the screenplay. After all, his previous work on The Wrestler and Big Fan featured underdogs who paid a heavy price for their delusion. Which is not to say that little Turbo should be made to suffer some awful fate. However, it would be heartening if there were a moral to this story other than, in some situations, it’s really not okay just being yourself.
Soren teases us with a more satisfying conclusion to his film before realizing—or, more likely, being reminded by the suits upstairs—that it would slam the door on any possibility of a sequel. And where’s the profit opportunity … uh, I mean fun … in that?
Director: David Soren
Writer: Darren Lemke, Robert D. Siegel, David Soren
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Peña, Bill Hader
Release Date: July 17, 2013