Ready, steady, escargot for underdog

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TO Turbo1

TURBO

Director: David Soren

Voice cast: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Luis Guzman, Bill Hader, Snoop Dogg, Maya Rudolph, Ben Schwartz, Richard Jenkins, Ken Jeong, Michelle Rodriguez

CLASSIFICATION: PG

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

Rating: ***

In delivering a film about a garden snail that dreams of winning the Indy 500, it’s as if the makers of Turbo had been pressed to come up with the most extreme underdog tale they could think of. Or else animators really are running out of ideas for original new characters.

“The sooner you accept the dull, miserable nature of your existence, the happier you’ll be,” worldly-wise snail Chet (Paul Giamatti) advises his younger brother Turbo (Ryan Reynolds) after yet another day scouring a garden tomato patch.

Turbo spends all his downtime watching VHS tapes of professional car races, especially the many won by his hero, Guy Gagne (Bill Hader, amusingly assuming a French-Canadian accent).

Of course, the message of the film, as with so many other kid-inspirational cartoons, is that no dream is too big, you can do anything if you set your mind to it, etc, etc. Unfortunately, the real embedded lesson of Turbo is that, if you’re too small, weak or otherwise incapable of greatness, you have a shot to win if you’re juiced.

Which is what happens late one night when Turbo, coming upon a Fast and Furious-style drag race in the dry LA River bed, gets sucked into an engine. Instead of being toasted, however, the little guy becomes infused with nitrous oxide, enabling him to zoom along the ground seemingly as fast as Superman shoots through the sky. Ah, the wonders of chemicals and strength enhancers.

Of course, Turbo needs a sponsor, which he finds in the form of Van Nuys taco truck driver Tito (Michael Pena), a wild dreamer who argues endlessly with his more practical brother Angelo (Luis Guzman) about the merits of promoting their forlorn business – Dos Bros Tacos – with a snail.

Joining in is a rainbow coalition of smart-mouthed supporting snails and neighbouring business owners voiced by the eminent likes of Samuel L Jackson, Michelle Rodriguez, Snoop Dogg, Maya Rudolph, Ben Schwartz, Richard Jenkins and Ken Jeong.

The ultimate destination – Indianapolis – is inevitable, but it takes a long time to get there, given a script by director David Soren (a dialogue writer on Shark Tale), Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After, Jack the Giant Slayer) and Robert Siegel (The Wrestler, Big Fan) that is short on invention and long on largely unfunny yacking. Once the gang arrives and begins over-coming the obstacles that might prevent a snail from entering a car race (conveniently unmentioned is the most obvious one, that Turbo lacks four wheels and an engine), the hitherto genial Gagne suddenly becomes a villain, feeling so threatened by the now-mighty mollusc that he goes to all lengths to prevent a humiliating defeat.

In the run-up to the race and then during it, you mostly wonder how a critter so small it can’t be seen on the track (although its blue/white-hot streak can) will avoid being crunched by the giant tyres of the humans’ racing machines; indeed, the film’s most irreverent merit is that it is periodically honest about the fate of snails by casually showing them being squashed by humans or gobbled up by animals, especially crows.

In the event, Turbo just zips through traffic as if on an obstacle course, the obvious longshot pip-squeak favourite in a field of giants.

The voice performances are solid and distinctive. But better yet are the visuals, particularly in nocturnal scenes around the taco stand, which create a heightened realistic evocation of shabby San Fernando Valley environs and an echo of classic noir visions of semi-desperate LA characters deciding to put all their chips on one roll of the dice. Just as Roger Deakins was engaged to advise on Rango, ace cinematographer Wally Pfister worked as visual consultant here. – Hollywood Reporter


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