The new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie is such a ridiculous guilty pleasure it will make even non-fans of the animated TV series cheer “Cowabunga.” Many groupies were wary about this film reboot when it was first announced, but all the bad buzz turned out to be bogus. Director Jonathan Liebesman (“Battle: Los Angeles”) and producer Michael Bay have successfully updated the Turtles to 2014. The joke-cracking crime fighters still love pizza, while also listening to Gwen Stefani and watching “Lost.” And they look better than they ever have, thanks to the motion capture technology used to bring them to life.
Here are five reasons why “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is one of the best surprises of the summer.
1. The Turtles are still campy. It’s not easy to reimagine a children’s property — think “Scooby Doo,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle” or “Garfield”– and still keep the humor intact on the big screen. But the Turtles still act and talk like the wise-cracking comicbook characters that headlined a hit cartoon TV series and movie franchise. (I remember seeing the first movie in theaters at the age of eight.) One of the problems with 2007’s “TMNT,” the animated film, was that the heroes were starting to feel as bland as “Spider-Man.” Not in this movie, which has enough laughs that play to both children and adults. The film’s script keeps the zingers coming, even when the plot stalls.
2. But who cares about the plot? This new “Turtles” film, like the one released in 1990, is an origins story. The four lead characters — Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello — still live in the sewers with their teacher Splinter (a rodent voiced by Tony Shalhoub who steals every scene he’s in). The Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon release often feels uneven (Johnny Knoxville is the voice of Leonardo while the other turtles are voiced by unknowns, giving the impression that the producers ran out of time to wrangle other stars). And yet, that doesn’t stop the movie from working as an adrenaline ride. Liebesman’s frenzied direction is all over the place, in the best way for a popcorn movie. The Turtles spend most of their screentime fighting the evil Shredder (who looks like he stepped right out of a “Transformers” movie) for a green can of ooze.
3. Turtles > Caesar. The last time the live-action Turtles were on the big screen, they were puppets from the Jim Henson Co. These turtles are rendered through motion capture, and look every bit as real as Caesar from the “Planet of the Apes” films. I actually prefer the upbeat turtles, who are the kind of guests you’d want at a summer party. Caesar sulks too much.
4. Megan Fox isn’t bad. As April O’Neil, the yellow-suited TV journalist who befriends the turtles, Fox definitely delivers some of the cheesiest lines in the film. But once you get past that, she looks at home onscreen with her four green leading men. And she has good chemistry with the one male human she interacts with — Will Arnett, a colleague who comes to the rescue. Unlike most other heroines from this year’s summer action movies (like “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” or “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”), the film offers a spotlight to its female star.
5. Car chases! Taking a page from the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, the new “Turtles” movie features a series of high-speed car chases, even though our reptiles don’t know how to drive. The best scene in the film is set on a snow-covered mountain with a truck. The Turtles might not be strong enough to save the disastrous summer of 2014 at the box office, but it’s good to have them back on the big screen.