'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Stars: Megan Fox, William Fichtner
2 (out of 5) Globes
Michael Bay only produced the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which is one reason it’s over an hour shorter than the new “Transformers” and generally, at times, somewhat tolerable. It’s also — and here’s the rub — powerfully forgettable. The particulars of Bay’s films tend to slip out of the mind seconds after they hit the screen. But you never forget the pummeling — the trip into a bro-ish, sexist, sadistic mind.
“TMNT,” on the other hand, feels like a generic corporate product, designed to cut costs and offend the least amount of people. The biggest star is Megan Fox, the fallen Bay hottie who’s apparently gotten back into his good graces after publically comparing him to Hitler. (Perhaps he came to see her point.) She’s April O’Neil, intrepid reporter — or rather, a wannabe intrepid reporter who’s stuck on the fluff beat. “Four years of journalism school and this is what I get,” she barks during some humiliating escapade, when the real mistake was going to journalism school in this day and age.
While snooping into a new crime organization, O’Neil happens upon the turtle quartet and giant rat Splinter (voice of Tony Shalhoub, who sounds less like the sage master of every other incarnation and more just like Tony Shalhoub). In the ’80s TV show the foursome mixed heroics with California surfer dude pranksterism. They’re considerably toned down here. Michelangelo is the party guy, hanging out with a not very fun crew, and Donatello has been turned into a full-on tech nerd, with glasses. Raphael and Leonardo are interchangeably intense, even though the latter’s voiced, though you'd never notice, by Johnny Knoxville. There's a distinct shortage of groaning puns and "cowabunga"s.
Then again, they have little time for personalities. They’re too busy fighting baddies, led by a super-sized Shredder (Tohuru Masamune), who can fire his giant blades like boomerangs, and a tech shark (William Fichtner) with a pretty stupid game plan even for stupid game plans. (Basically he’s a billionaire whose plan is to become rich.) But we can’t quite see the fights. The action in the “Transformer” films, like all Bays, is often incomprehensible. But this is a different story. Director Jonathan Liebesman did “Battle: Los Angeles,” and he likes to shoot action in shaky long takes, the camera wobbling or crash-zooming for no particular reason.
That might work, but not with these turtles, who have been redesigned to be massive — huge hulking beasts with shells that look like they would knock them down. The cameras get so close to the action you can’t see anything but indecipherable green. Then again, the action is generic tussling anyway — a lot of busy scrambling to give the illusion of kinesis and burn the running time. There's a modestly involving chase down a snowy mountain, with the turtles leaping about around various cascading vehicles. But like every set piece, it overuses the “300” “speed ramping” process, with sudden bursts of slo-mo that by now seem like moves from a bygone era of action.
That Fox isn’t very good actually isn’t her fault; she’s actually trying. Since her box office downfall, Fox has turned in pretty good and even funny work in “Friends with Money” and “This is 40.” Here, she isn’t the vacuous, long-legged kewpie doll from “Transformers”; she’s stressed and, early on, borderline crazy, freaking out her roommate with babble about giant, talking reptiles. But she goes too far; she’s actively annoying. And Will Arnett, as her coworker/wouldbe love interest, can’t seem to be inspired around her or the movie to ad-lib anything good. Then again, this is a movie that casts both Arnett and Fichtner and doesn’t even notice they look and very nearly sound alike. Say what you will about the endless Marvel numbers, but they’re slight but diverting. This is slight without being offensive — and where's the fun in that?
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge