Considering how badly it bombed at the box office, it’s remarkable how strong a legacy Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Grindhouse‘ left behind. Made by a handful of east coast Canucks with a VHS collection, a few bucks and neon dreams, ‘Turbo Kid’ is the latest movie to attempt that peculiar mixture of parody and homage for retro trash entertainment .
Mixing together the clichés and conventions of a mountain of 1980s and ’90s sci-fi, action, horror and kidsploitation flicks, ‘Turbo Kid’ is a brightly colored and blood-soaked joy for anyone with a sweet tooth for the trash of that era. It should easily earn the cult audience it so desperately craves.
Muro Chambers stars as The Kid, an orphan in a post-apocalyptic landscape that looks like a series of garbage dumps. He spends his days riding around on a BMX, collecting discarded toys and comics (especially those related to his favourite hero, Turbo Kid) and trying to avoid death at the hands of the various evil folk kicking around. He ends up befriending an impossibly chipper young girl named Apple, played by Laurence Leboeuf (no relation), and everything seems like it might be OK. Then he angers the evil and eye-patched Zeus (Michael Ironside), who rules over the last remaining semblance of society with an iron fist, hoards water and has a henchman with flying sawblade hands. That spells trouble for our trusty duo. Fortunately, they find a little help via a New Zealand cowboy played by Aaron Jeffery and a functioning Turbo Kid suit. That battle between good and evil just might turn out all right after all!
Made by the three-headed filmmaking collective of Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell (who call themselves RKSS or Roadkill Superstar), ‘Turbo Kid’ feels like a mix-tape comprised of all the best and worst scenes from a stack of direct-to-video ’80s kitsch. These filmmakers clearly loved digging through the depths of VHS bargain bins to admire the ludicrous extremes and loving charms of the era’s trash entertainment. Featuring a “futuristic” 1997 setting, the movie pays homage to everything from ‘Mad Max’ rip-offs and ‘BMX Bandits’ to excessive Troma gore-horror and cheesy kids’ TV programming like ‘Captain Power’.
Though the team is going for a low-fi look, they have talent and charm to spare. The movie is an explosion of colourful imagery, camp humor and buckets of gore that’s impossible not to be entertained by if you have even a tiny fondness for the era. Granted, the target audience will need to appreciate chainsaw dismemberment and goofy friend-making montages equally, but thankfully that niche is alive and thriving.
The junk store aesthetic is filled with references and surprises. The camerawork has spark. The humor hits the mark, which is far harder than it seems with this sort of thing. (See Syfy’s programming schedule for proof.) Even the actors are uniformly well cast. Munro Chambers has just the right mixture of innocence and ass-kickery. Laurence Lebeouf manages to make a potentially annoying character endearingly adorable, and the great Michael Ironside (‘Scanners’, ‘Starship Troopers’, etc.) is clearly having a ball acting totally unhinged for the first time in years. There might be times when it’s clear that the movie is held together by loose change, Scotch tape and desperation, but the obvious enthusiasm of everyone involved carries the flick over the bumpy passages.
Even at 93 minutes, ‘Turbo Kid’ is probably a bit too long for this sort of thing, yet it’s so difficult to get this particularly brand of deliberately so-bad-it’s-good filmmaking right that the excesses are forgivable. It’s clear that the filmmakers genuinely love the cinematic trash they’re resurrecting, and that goes a long way toward avoiding the cynical traps that can tip these projects over the edge. If it feels like the filmmakers have contempt or disinterest for the type of B-movies they’re mocking, the movies can be boring. However, when the cheesy charms of something like ‘Turbo Kid’ are delivered with this much joy and unapologetic enthusiasm, it’s hard not to crack a smile. The movie certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re the type of person willing to read a review of a flick called ‘Turbo Kid’, then it’s safe to say you’re in the demographic and should rush out immediately to enjoy all the sweet-hearted, gory fun.