Turbo Kid is the best 80’s movie made in 2015. Created by a team of three writer/directors who based Turbo Kid on a short of theirs from 2011, T is for Turbo. It’s likely you won’t recognize anything on their resumes since they are relatively new in the industry and work in Canada, not Hollywood. The actors are largely the same though they all handle the intentionally campy and brilliantly corny movie perfectly.
Tired of hearing your friends say they’ve watched everything on Netflix? Are you finding yourself saying that as well? Maybe the argument of people too cheap to shell out the 8 dollars are saying ‘there used to be good stuff, but it’s all crap now.’ Maybe you find yourself spending more time scrolling than watching. Well I plan to put those idiotic statements and bad behavior to rest. On a week to week basis I will give a solid recommendation or two on what you can sign on, turn on, and enjoy. I’ll try to stay away from the massive titles that everyone knows since those have been covered to exhaustion everywhere else. I’m looking for the hidden gems. The indies, the big name stars in direct to streaming endeavors that are well crafted and creative but wouldn’t gross the 300 million needed to justify a theatrical wide release.
The post apocalyptic world of the future 1997 is a rough place. A kid (Munro Chambers) spends his days riding around on his fixed gear and brightly colored BMX scavenging everyday things from the wasteland. A huge fan of comics, The Kid is caught acting one out by a cute and irritatingly upbeat girl called Apple (Laurence Leboeuf). Wanting little more than to survive and scavenge another day The Kid and Apple cross paths with the self proclaimed overlord of the wasteland, Zeus (Michael Ironside). Becoming a version of the comic book hero Turbo Man, The Kid makes an unlikely ally in Frederic (Aaron Jeffery), the toughest SOB in the wasteland, based entirely on arm wrestling and one-liners.
Turbo Kid is an homage to the movies the filmmakers, and many viewers in the Netflix streaming audience, grew up on. The music is dramatically synthesized, the costumes are brilliantly primary colored. Even the setting of the film, the distant future of 1997 is so typical of the 80’s era the very stage setting is hysterical. The words that flash across the screen throughout the opening and the title treatment itself are quintessential 80’s science fiction film making.
The pacing of the story and technical aspects of the creation of the film are much more modern. The 80’s adventure movies generally took their time rolling out, audiences had a lot more patience. Turbo Kid is a tight 93 minutes and utilizes every minute carefully. The story wastes no time getting going. Even though The Kid doesn’t become the hero until more than halfway through the film it never feels slow or as if it’s dragging.
The camera work is surprisingly strong. The cinematographer, Jean-Phillippe Bernier brought a high budget and clarity to the film that was entirely unexpected. Bernier has worked on some seriously epic Hollywood films including 300, Days of Future Past and the under appreciated Source Code. Tracking shots and close ups were done with tracks and dollies, no headache inducing handi-cams. The high definition quality also took a step away from classic 80s science fiction and action movies but this was a welcome liberty taken without losing the spirit of what everyone was creating.
It takes some adjustment to be able to hear the actors deliver their lines and watch their semi-stiff acting. At first it reads as low quality and lack of skill. About twenty minutes into Turbo Kid, if you allow yourself to get into the pure enjoyment of something and not looking to find problems with it, you realize how brilliant these unfamiliar faces really are. The corny dialogue is, of course, intentional. The information is delivered in exposition heavy ways. The actors lean into their performances to not only say what actually has to be said but to give the audiences some really wide gaps for simple ‘reading between the lines.’ The unlikable characters, skells, villains, and heroes aren’t subtle. That word has no place here. Everyone is defined in simple black and white.
The actors really seem to be having fun in their roles. Munro Chambers is charming, Laurence Leboeuf is endearing, Michael Ironside is a cheesy menace. The actor who really stands apart is Aaron Jeffery, the tough talking, catchphrase spewing, foul mouthed Australian arm wrestler. He’s the typical hero, the bad ass, the anti-hero, the mentor, and the comic relief all wrapped into one. The filmmakers give him so many “hero shots” it should get old, but it never does. It’s great every time.
The costume design looks like it was all set up through garage sales and thrift stores, and maybe it was. What a great way to keep the budget down for the epitome of an independent movie. The costumes were cheaply created but flawless. The props are intentionally low budget but not bad. There is a big difference. The most obvious example is in Skeletron, a menacing character who is the right hand man to Zeus. Skeletron wears a metal mask, clearly not made out of metal, and has a saw blade that whirls lamely on his arm. With the added sound effects and reactions your brain automatically reverts to its childlike sense of acceptance on all things entertainment.
The most modern thing in Turbo Kid is the turbo charged weapon The Kid finds and wears on his arm. This mega-man level blaster has a glow of pure energy that shoots out and liquefies its targets. When people are shot with it the blood flows as if Quentin Tarantino were making a horror movie in the 70s. Buckets of blood rain down in all the action sequences but when the turbo blaster comes into play the rest looks tame.
If it isn’t clear by now, Turbo Kid is phenomenal. It’s the perfect blend of enjoyment for nostalgia and a well crafted movie that knows exactly what it is. This is my Netflix Pick of the week and is good enough that I could watch it next week and write another thousand words on why it’s so fantastic.