‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows’
Director: Dave Green
Stars: Megan Fox, Stephen Arnell
1 Globe (out of 5)
Saying the second “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is an improvement over the first is like saying you’d rather be poisoned than stabbed, or drinking rancid milk is preferable to guzzling motor oil. It’s more watchable, or, to be more precise, less un-watchable. But in other ways it’s more offensive to the spirit. The first was a mere hideously ugly brand reboot. Its follow-up is a John Landis 100-car pile-up of a movie. It keeps adding things, mostly borrowed from already successful blockbusters, and soon it has no real identity — just a desperate need to appeal to as broad a base as possible. When making money is the only m.o., everyone loses.
To wit: “Out of the Shadows” has, of course, its misshapen green freakazoids — a wisecracking, hyperactive foursome who look like they were rejected by the Brothers Quay for being too frightening. Only children could tolerate them, and you can tell this is a kids movie because it takes human star Megan Fox five whole minutes to bare her midriff.
It’s a family movie for ages 8 and up, but also for horny teenage boys. There’s a Marvel-knockoff climax in which New York City almost gets destroyed, even though Marvel already got the memo that that’s in bad taste. There are nods to “The Road Warrior,” a Batman-style cave, an appearance by a guy dressed as “Transformers”’ Bumblebee and — what the hell? — Tyler Perry and Laura Linney, too. Everyone’s a target, even fans of “You Can Count On Me.”
Even the plot is a knock-off — of 1991’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.” There is some ooze, and it can mutate creatures into other creatures. Actually there are about four plots, each repeatedly forgotten about at various points. The loudest involves literal brainiac Krang (voice of Brad Garrett), who, since he spends most of his time inside the belly of a giant robot, smacks of Kuato from “Total Recall,” only less charming. He’s teamed with the escaped Shredder (Brian Tee) to bring his legions of alien beasties — via a kind of “death star” — into our world, ushering forth 2016’s third or fourth plot for global annihilation. Even Bond villains sometimes just want to steal gold.
At one point it seems our turtles may be splintering (if you will) over some bad blood, but that’s quickly forgotten about, too. They do some globetrotting for some reason. New series director Dave Green, of the Spielbergian throwback “Earth to Echo,” tries to bring some gee whiz-ness to the clang. But he’s hampered by producer Michael Bay, who makes sure the turtles are properly Bay-ized. When these slimy New Yorkers aren’t eating pizza — and not even Joe’s or John’s, much less Di Fara — they’re busting each other’s balls or pulling pranks while never shutting up. Occasionally they hit on Fox’s April O’Neil, because why else is a woman in a Bay movie?
Speaking of which: Linney, as a severe but sprightly police chief, does look like she’s having some deeply well-earned fun, though Perry, as an evil nerd — because the smart are always villainous in the Bay-verse — is mostly regulated to lines like, “Eliminate those turtles!” “TMNT2” embarrasses a guy who directed a movie called “Good Deeds,” about a man named Wesley Deeds.
OK, that’s not fair: Perry’s a smart entrepreneur and an arresting performer, who’s been able to monetize his unique voice by serving a large portion of the country Hollywood utterly ignores. He’s the opposite of a movie that’s catering to the section of the country — boys and man-children — that does nothing but get sold goods. Perry’s involvement is “Out of the Shadow”’s only funny joke, and one it doesn’t seem to have made on purpose.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter@mattprigge