At some point last week, I had lamented the dearth of pastiche in modern films. There are some examples that come to mind: Pulp Fiction (and most of Tarantino’s oeuvre). Edgar Wright’s entire filmography. Hell, even Dr. No is ostensibly a pastiche film. These are done in the style of other, earlier films and directors, calling back to earlier without necessarily paying a direct homage to a specific scene, character, or movie.
It is more about the feel of a film, calling back to earlier, familiar tropes while remaining fully invested in their own, self-contained cinematic universe. Turbo Kid is a 1980’s post-apocalyptic pastiche, and one of the more fun, violent, and charming movies to have come out in some time.
Turbo Kid stars Munro Chambers (Eli from Degrassi) as the nameless, comic book-obsessed Kid, who scavenges for parts and supplies to trade for water and other goods in what is, presumably, a post-apocalyptic Alberta. A nuclear war has ravaged the planet, and the survivors are just out doing their best to survive living in the Wasteland, while Zeus (Michael Ironside, and his glorious voice) and his mute, saw-bladed henchman, Skeletron (Edwin Wright) rule the land, reducing pesky detractors to deathmatches, where their body’s water is recycled.
Along his wanderings, the Kid collects artifacts from the time before the apocalypse, including a series of comic books featuring the Turbo Rider, a superhero with a super-powered glove that shoots energy rays. Along comes the quirky (genuine quirky, not “quirky-just-to-be-quirky”) Apple (the ridiculously buoyant Laurence LaBeouf), crazy-eyed and optimistic to a fault, and the two start a friendship that begins to blossom into just a bit more, when the Kid discovers a buried life-craft, and the dessicated remains of his hero: Turbo Rider himself. Will the Kid become inspired by the visage of his hero, and use his smuggled super-power glove for the greater good?
I want to reveal nothing else about the plot, as it is worth watching this amazing, small film. I had written at length about tone, and how insanely important it is to get right in order for the audience to fully experience a story. Writer/directors Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell managed to craft a buoyant, charming film that has an incredible amount of heart and impressive effects (given its small scale and budget). Adapted from their short entry in the first ABCs Of Death (T For Turbo), the directing team keep the film fast-paced and light, while amping up the action and violence to an impressive degree.
Yes…this film is surprisingly, goofily, inventively, hilariously violent.
While the film itself is light enough, and centers one two teenage characters, the world in which they inhabit is incredibly dangerous and violent, and the film does not shy away from that. Thankfully, though, the film doesn’t hide the fact that it is a fantasy. The colors are rich and bright, seemingly complimenting the Kid’s wayward optimism and Apple’s infectious enthusiasm. The desaturated look of most modern post-apocalyptic films is thankfully nowhere to be found, and most of the film takes place during the day.
Most of the action is shot in such a way that it is easy to follow exactly what is happening (as well as character’s spatial relation to each other), and the story is clear enough that the actions and violence to the main characters has weight to it. While the film is by no means a comedy, there were several laughs elicited from the sheer ingenuity of how to destroy a human body. And with the practical effects to boot, it was glorious, gory fun.
From the tone, to the story, to the plot, to the character and set designs, right down to the titles and Jean-Philippe Bernier (who also acted as the director of photography) and Jean-Nicolas Leupi Le Matos’ synth-based soundtrack, this is a film in love with the kid-centric adventure films of the 1980’s. From The Warriors, to The Goonies, to Labyrinth, Turbo Kid is the spiritual sibling to those films; mature films that are violent (or, at the least, hint at violence), but that happen to feature kids.
Unlike most homage films, Turbo Kid also wisely shies away from insulting the genre. It commits fully to the 1980’s pastiche, even with how goofily sentimental it plays. It is this element more than any other that all that makes the film work: it just rolls with the conceit. Had a character stopped mid-story to make a snarky comment about how stupid it is that all the characters are riding bicycles — which makes sense in a world where gasoline no longer exists; or how violence is so commonplace no one reacts to it realistically; or asking how Skeletron can eat, or stand the heat, or even carry a metallic skull-shaped mask on his head…if any one of those questions were mentioned within the film, it would have stopped the film flat.
The movie does not believe it is smarter than its own conventions, nor does it ask the audience to do that either. It has enough heart and information to care about the characters and enjoy the story.
Ironside plays Zeus formidably enough, with little character development, but a fun twist revealed at the end. Wright’s Skeletron is one of the highlights of the cast, who says not one word throughout, but his sheer presence and appearance add a palpable sense of danger to any scene in which he is featured. However, the two main stars carry the entire film and embue it with a massive heart.
Munro Chambers plays the kid as smart enough to convince the audience he can survive in the Wasteland, but naïve enough to not know how to hold his own in a hand-to-hand situation. More times than not, the Kid is running away from a fight, than throwing down, even after he finds his super-glove.
His relationship and chemistry with Apple is the selling point for the story, as theirs is not an out-right romance, yet still carries the same weight. And, thankfully, they are equals. Apple might not know how to fight, and be crazy enough to not know when she is in danger, but that does not stop her from throwing down in a fight, whether that means beating someone to death with a garden gnome, or impaling a henchman with a plastic unicorn’s horn. She and the Kid are constantly saving each other, and we grow to actually care about them as individuals. By the end of the film, my girlfriend and I just wanted to see more of the Kid and Apple, and for the film to go on.
There are a plethora of other great characters peppered in throughout this great film, and elements to the plot I do not want to touch upon…but please, track this film down. If there is a downside, it would be that this is just available for streaming at this time, and the film flies by too briskly. Before we knew it, the film was over, leaving us just wanting the story and world to go on. But it is highly recommended. This would go great as a light double-feature once you get your streaming copy of Mad Max: Fury Road.
Turbo Kid is available for streaming on Amazon, and Google Play.