Movie review: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” not as bad or good as it could have been

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From the August 7, 2014 edition

The highest praise I can pay the new reboot of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”? It isn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.

Mind you, it isn’t good. It isn’t even “so bad it’s good.” It’s just there. I wish it was better. Or worse.

TMNT fans have been bristling since the Michael Bay-produced project was announced; there’s even a joke in the script about Bay’s abandoned idea to reimaging the turtles as an alien race. Even though we joked about “Michael Bay ruining your childhood” this week, that aspect is also not as bad as it could have been. But, like I said, still not good.

April O’Neil (Megan Fox? Really?) is an go-getter TV reporter trying to get the scoop on a recent NYC crime wave perpetuated by Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and his Foot Clan. April’s investigation inevitably leads her to everyone’s favorite titular turtles named after Italian Renaissance painters.

OK, first off, Michael Bay produced this movie, but he didn’t direct it (Jonathan Liebesman did). You see some of Bay’s fingerprints — obnoxious swirling camera shots, lots of explosion porn — but at least we have a reasonable running length. At about an hour and 40 minutes, it’s a full hour shorter than “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” So it only feels sort of too long, not unbearable too long. Hey, it’s baby steps.

The plot ranges from action clichés to eye-rolling coincidences — April suddenly remembers that she had four pet turtles named after Renaissance painters as a child? — which would be more forgivable if the action was above average. It’s a standard barrage of quick cuts, and the fact that most everything is computer-generated makes that kinda ho-hum, even if the brisk pace keeps things from getting too boring.

The CGI turtles are problematic. They’re realistic enough to land them on the creepy side, especially when there’s innuendo about April (“She’s so hot, I can feel my shell tightening”? Dude.) April being played by Megan Fox also smacks of Bay’s influence, and it’s a really bad bit of casting. Also, what’s with the bodybuilder physiques on the turtles? In the final fight, I felt kinda bad for Shredder. Poor dude was outnumbered.

Overall, fans will probably find it OK. Non-fans won’t be blown away. The biggest shame is that it could have been pretty good if it was willing to embrace the inherent campiness and break out of its shell.