Functioning as an unassuming but surprisingly elegant eighties nostalgia vehicle, Turbo Kid is a New Zealand-Canadian co-production starring Munro Chambers (formerly Eli of Degrassi TNG) as “The Kid,” an otherwise-nameless survivor of a nondescript apocalypse fighting to stay alive in the distant, irradiated future year of 1997. His hero is comic book character Turbo Blaster, master of the Turbo Punch, and he obtains water (which is becoming less drinkable by the day) by trapping and trading mutant rats. His life changes when he meets and reluctantly befriends Apple (Laurence Leboeuf), a strange girl who comes from the other side of the wasteland, and discovers an underground bunker containing the Turbo Blaster’s real armor and weaponry. The master of this domain is the implacable Zeus (Michael Ironside, because of course), a warlord who is attended by his masked lieutenant Skeletron (Edwin Wright), a voiceless monster with a metal skull mask and razor-studded football pads. When Apple, the newly christened Turbo Kid, and renegade cowboy Frederic (Aaron Jeffery) are captured by Zeus to compete in his murderous bloodsports, the trio learns that the water they’ve been drinking is made of the same stuff as Soylent Green; they escape and begin to take the fight to Zeus.
This is an eccentric movie, and it’s definitely not for everyone. Simon Abrams of RogerEbert.com refers to the film’s aesthetic as an “infantilizing vintage fetish,” which isn’t inaccurate but fails to account for how much joy a properly attuned viewer can derive from the film’s strange blend of innocence and gore, born from nostalgia for a time when films like this were more commonplace. The late eighties and early nineties were a strange time, when R-rated films like Robocop, Police Academy, and Rambo were made for adults but marketed to children in the form of action figures and cartoon adaptations, and the peculiarity of that idiosyncratic time acts as a kind of unstated thesis or leitmotif at the core of this film. So much of the movie plays like something that a group of kids would make in their backyard, with the prominence of playground equipment in the areas where Kid spends his time, his eighties kid dream bedroom in the underground station where he has made a home, and the fact that the only apparent mode of transportation is by bicycle (presumably due to a lack of fuel); with this in mind, it would be easy to assume that the movie would feel like it was made for children as well, until the ludicrous blood squibs start popping off.
The film’s darker comedy elements come from the fact that this flick is very, very violent. And bloody. Underneath the primary colors of the Turbo suit and the Punky Brewster by-way-of Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure sartorial choices, there’s gore to satiate even the most bloodthirsty viewer. At one point, a person’s body is blown in half, and his torso and head land atop another person’s shoulders, effectively blinding him and turning the 1.5 men into a human totem pole; it’s so over-the-top that it crosses a line… until the bottom half of said mauled fighter also lands on yet another person’s shoulders, and skips right back across the line to be bloody hilarious once more. Skeletron’s weapon of choice is a gauntlet that shoots saw blades (like the makeshift weapons from Blood Massacre), which provides plenty of opportunities for fountains of blood, and even Turbo Kid’s overpowered gauntlet causes people’s bodies to burst like giant hemoglobin balloons. And I forgot to mention–these are practical effects, at least for the most part. That’s dedication that you don’t see often anymore, and it’s best to appreciate it when the opportunity arises. It’s silly and farcical and oh-so-wonderful, and I can’t recommend it enough.
From the throwback rock & roll music that Kid listens to on his walkman (when he can scavenge some batteries) to the sound effect cues and overall usage of color and depth of frame, this is a movie that made me so happy that I immediately watched it a second time on the day following my first viewing. As noted above, it’s not a movie that everyone can love; you have to be of a certain mindset and have a certain fondness for films of yore. It’s a solid film predicated upon a familiarity with films of the Cold War, featuring homages to Terminator, Star Wars, Mad Max, and everything else your Muppet Babies-loving heart has dreamed of combining into one narrative. The only potential problem that I can foresee for this film is that it could become a surprise indie hit that crosses over into mainstream saturation; check it out now before the Napoleon Dynamite-like hype and inevitable backlash destroys your capacity to love it for what it is.
-Mark “Boomer” Redmond