Remember the 80's? Of course you do, we haven't let you forget. Those of us born in or around that decade hold it dear and now either run things or have the expendable income to relive it. Hollywood can be obnoxious about it (Pixels), but RKSS (the writer/director collective of Anouk Whissell, François Simard, and Yoann-Karl Whissell) did something clever wielding the nostalgia hammer with Turbo Kid. As an attempt to make a movie straight from that era with a cartoonishly violent wink from the present, Turbo Kid makes for an entertaining time capsule with its low budget and high concept.
A nameless hero (Munro Chambers as The Kid) is barely surviving the post-apocalypse on his own. Even as a teenager, he has big scars in his past. Reluctantly he befriends a girl called Apple (Laurence Leboeuf) and together they combat a tyrannical overlord (Michael Ironside. That Michael Ironside.) who is, yes, hoarding water over the poor inhabitants. It's all very stock, probably so when the movie gets weird we have something to hold on to. Or maybe for one more thing to be familiar with.
Turbo Kid is sort of like a Tarentino movie in its mishmash of ideas while still fitting squarely into the “genre” its referencing, perhaps with a little less grace, but with its own charm. The world at play is like a giant toy chest was dumped over the barren parts of Australia circa 1985. The post-apocalyptic setting is just scattered with random 80's junk without drawing too much attention usually, its just where The Kid, Apple and the rest of the cast live and breathe. Everyone gets around on BMX bikes. Our protagonist eats cereal and idolizes a comic book hero – not era-exclusive, but certainly iconographic of the 80's.
I enjoyed that the movies Turbo Kid is pulling from aren't the usual Spielberg fair. I'm just saying a lot of people have tried and failed to recapture The Goonies (Super 8 cough). The most obvious movie Turbo Kid references is Mad Max (Wired accurately called it “Mad Max on BMX bikes”), but it also directly or indirectly pulls from more obscure films like Cherry 2000 and BMX Bandits. That's one of Turbo Kid's biggest strengths, relegating itself to a small, distinct corner of the decade. It isn't aiming to be a full-on spoof in the vein of The FP or Kung Fury, and nowhere near as goofy. The only times Turbo Kid falls flat in the reference depart is when it decides to make specific jokes, which are rare. A carefully overhauled and repainted Nintendo Power Glove is much more enjoyable and subtle than making a well-worn Army of Darkness joke.
Speaking of references, the first half felt like Legend to me, in that I cared way more about the villains. While The Kid is working hard to anchor the movie emotionally, which he mostly succeeds at, he's accompanied by Apple who is nigh-painful to be around until a reveal around the middle of the picture. She is purposefully annoying to the audience and The Kid, who shows his discomfort like Tom Hanks dealing with a slobbering mastiff named Hooch. Meanwhile, Michael Ironside and his golden eyepatch are having a blast with buzzsaw arm guy (a Silverhawks reference I wonder) named Skeletron, his number one, and the rest of his goons. Later our protagonists are rejoined with the scoundrel drifter Frederic the Arm Wrestler (Aaron Jeffery) who keeps screaming “fuck!” and “fucker!” at everything. As you can imagine, he's great, and everything picks up by this point.
What drew my attention to the movie long ago was the involvement of Jason “Hobo with a Shotgun” Eisener. At first, Turbo Kid didn't seem to reflect the roots of its executive produer.
But then came the buckets and buckets of blood.
This is as or more tonally dissonant as you think it is. On the surface, Turbo Kid is bright and colorful in palette and plot, a cute teen romance/coming of age story on dirt bikes. But then heads and bodies are dismantled, parts spinning in place on their bones and geysers erupting. For example, the villain Zeus, to extract information, has a character sat in a chair with his stomach cut open and intestines stretched across the room, looped around the rear wheel of a stationary bike with Skeletron sat upon it as a threat.
I understand a lot of people are put off by gore, no matter what kind. Which I respect, and think of these people as better humans than I. To me, because of the cartoonish nature and ludicrously exaggerated lengths taken, coupled with how out of place it is – that's the best aspect of the movie. No one in the small theater saw any of it coming, but I think it's a big sell.
As you might expect, there's a quality synth score to accent the style. More importantly the opening ballad is done by Stan Bush (of “The Touch” fame, which I'll accept if you know from Boogie Nights but love you more if you know it from Transformers the Movie).
Turbo Kid brings life to a new 80's movie through a rose-tinted viewfinder caked in blood and guts, but also brings along some pitfalls from the period. It's not perfect, but it is tubular.