In my editor’s ongoing attempt to grind my sanity down to a booze-sodden nub, I’ve been reviewing some of the lamest reboots and worst atrocities Hollywood has visited upon beloved characters and franchises. And now it’s the Turtles’ turn in the barrel. And boy howdy, is it ever one nasty barrel.
The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is, despite the whining of Cinema Sins, actually pretty good for what it is. The action sequences are pretty solid, the humor isn’t too stupid, the effects are shockingly good for 1990 and hold up still, and the movie actually takes a relatively serious tone where there’s some genuine concern over the Turtles. I’d forgotten that a major plot point is one of the Turtles getting almost beaten to death, which is grim, but ballsy, and there were some smart ideas that made the movie work pretty well as a kiddie action flick.
And it was an enormous success! So they threw out everything that worked! First of all, the first movie came out in 1990, and witnessing that the iron was hot and they had a genuine attempt to turn the Turtles into something other than a passing fad, New Line rushed out a second one within a year. Worse, they listened to moronic hand-wringing parents, who complained that somehow the movie about anthropomorphic reptiles trained in martial arts fighting ninjas who ran a Neverland/pawnshop might be mistaken for reality by their equally moronic children. Instead of maybe suggesting that the problem could be avoided by not giving a six-year-old a katana, New Line caved and made a movie without the Ninja Turtles doing anything that could possibly be mistaken for martial arts.
The result is embarrassing if you loved this movie as a kid. It’s both shamelessly pandering and rushed as quickly as possible and, despite costing twice as much as the original movie, somehow looks like the budget was brutally slashed. Elias Koteas, better known as Casey Jones, was too busy making weird sex movies in Canada (and just as a friendly reminder, Koteas and James Spader both starred in Crash, which means Casey Jones and Ultron did butt stuff), so he was summarily replaced with experienced stuntman, and painfully inexperienced actor, Ernie Reyes Jr. The locations consist entirely whatever was cheapest to rent in North Carolina. Even David Warner looks bored.
And the sleazy exploitation vibe is pretty thick, to be honest. Part of the reason the original movie worked was that it didn’t assume kids were stupid. Crude, maybe, but not stupid. This movie thinks you are stupid. Not just stupid, but possibly mentally handicapped.
It’s condescending to tell parents that you don’t know how they do it, but how my father, a patient and loving man who still did not suffer poorly done film gladly, did not take my VHS of this movie and snap it across his knee is a question I have no answer to. And honestly, it hurt New Line at the box office, but not enough to convince them to make a good movie. It made less than half of what the first movie pulled in, but that was more than enough for it to rack up three times its budget at the domestic box office. So, really, if you’re wondering why fart jokes and cheese will rule the movie hitting theaters this weekend, consider that they learned it from the money we threw them when we were in grade school.