Even under the best of circumstances, it would be late in the day for another bigscreen adventure from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. But coming so soon after the well-received reissue of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” trilogy, the high-camp cheesiness of “Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie” is especially unimpressive. Fox may wring a few opening-week bucks from die-hard fans of the long-running kidvid series (now known as “Power Rangers ZEO”). But this frenetically cartoonish opus won’t find its biggest audience until it morphs onto homevideo.
Once again, the superheroic teens from Angel Grove transform themselves into rainbow-hued warriors to protect the universe from intergalactic baddies. In their previous feature, the slightly better “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie” (1995), they tangled with Ivan Ooze (Paul Freeman), a purple people beater. This time, the villain of the piece is Divatox (Hilary Shepard Turner), a tightly corseted Valkyrian harpy with a smart mouth and a bad attitude.
Divatox wants to use a diminutive wizard named Lerigot (Joe Simanton) to unleash a fiery creature trapped inside a volcano somewhere in the Nemesis Triangle. Not surprisingly, the Power Rangers try to stop her. In this, they are aided by two former Rangers (Amy Jo Johnson and Austin St. John) who serve as plain-clothes heroes.
Co-directors David Winning and Shuki Levy, working from a script by Levy and Shell Danielson, try to freshen the familiar formula with a few new wrinkles. Early on, the injured Blue Ranger Rocky (Steve Cardenas) is replaced by Justin (Blake Foster), a precocious 12-year-old boy who better represents the pic’s target audience. Fortunately, he’s able miraculously to grow several inches taller when he becomes the Blue Ranger.
Pic veers into traditional adventure-movie territory as Justin and his fellow Rangers board a two-masted ship and set sail for the Nemesis Triangle. But more interesting are the new Power Ranger warrior vehicles, “Zords” — distinctively customized turbo-charged cars and trucks. (“Good thing you don’t need a driver’s license to drive a Zord,” notes the underage Justin.) When the vehicles are joined together, they form a huge, samurai-like fighting machine. Presumably, toy-store shelves are already stocked with ample supplies of these goodies.
Despite the new hardware and other innovations, “Turbo” resembles nothing so much as an extended version of a routine “Power Rangers” TV episode. And like the TV series, the pic features makeup and special-effects gimmickry that are far less persuasive than what might be found at second-rate theme-park attractions. Blown up to movie size, the pinch-penny production values look more than a little pathetic.
Helmers keep “Turbo” moving, which is not, unfortunately, the same thing as making it interesting. For the most part, the actors are inoffensively serviceable. But two performances stand out. As Divatox, Turner has carte blanche to chew up the scenery, and even nibble on a few bit players, and she takes full advantage. She steals every scene, behaving like Cruella De Vil as played by Sandra Bernhard.
As Kimberly, Johnson is almost as much fun. During her three years in the TV series and her appearance in the first “Power Rangers” pic, Johnson tended toward bland perkiness. But in “Turbo,” she briefly turns over to the dark side, thanks to Divatox’s manipulations, and the change suits her. Indeed, she brings just a hint of sultriness to her fleeting wickedness, which, if nothing else, allows her to demonstrate more range. In the unlikely event there is a “Power Rangers 3,” she might make a swell villainess.