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Sundance Film Review: ‘Turbo Kid’

Quebec trio RKSS' feature debut is a comedically faux mid-80s sci-fi cheapie set in the generic post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Munro Chambers, Laurence Lebeouf, Aaron Jeffery, Edwin Wright, Romano Orzari, Michael Ironside.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3672742/

A fun satirical flashback to 1980s “Mad Max” knockoffs and more juvenile post-apocalyptic adventures like “Prayer of the Roller Boys,” “Turbo Kid” reps the first feature (after numerous shorts) from Anouk Whissell, Francois Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissel, the Quebec trio known as RKSS (Road Kill Super Stars). Surprisingly sweet-natured even amid its frequent fountains of bloodshed, the pic could provide more consistent high energy and bigger laughs, but should be much sought after by fantasy fest and midnight programmers. Offshore theatrical prospects for this Canada/New Zealand co-production will be spottier, ancillary sales niche but active.

After myriad wars and environmental catastrophes render the Earth barely habitable in the distant future of 1997 (design contributions labor to suggest the pic itself dates from the mid-’80s), our orphaned teenage protagonist known only as the Kid (“Degrassi” star Munro Chambers) has raised himself in the Wasteland zone. He collects kitsch memorabilia of the past and supports himself selling such finds to one-man flea market Bagu (Romano Orzari). He otherwise stays well away from humanity’s tattered surviving remnants, especially the violent BMX “biker” gang that surrounds eyepatched villain Zeus (Michael Ironside). Zeus’ favorite sport is to pit his henchmen against unfortunate captives who then have their corpses “juiced” for that most precious resource, water.

Out scavenging one day, the loner Kid gets a first-ever, self-appointed best friend in the form of unnaturally perky, pink-haired Apple (Laurence Lebeouf), who cheerfully claps a tracking device on his wrist and then refuses to leave his side, to his initial dismay. But by the time she’s kidnapped by one of Zeus’ thugs, he’s grown attached. He narrowly escapes, in the process stumbling onto the remains of what seems a real-life Turbo Man, his comicbook superhero favorite. Armed with T-Man’s gaudy protective suit and turbo-firing glove, he rescues Apple as well as caustically matey cowboy Frederic (Aaron Jeffery) from the bad guys’ lair. After that humiliation, Zeus & Co. are bent on tracking down all three escapees for the kill.

The action sequences are not particularly vigorously staged, getting by mostly on the running gag of over-the-top blood geysers gushing like Old Faithful whenever anyone suffers harm, and the writing-directing trio’s script could have used some more outre situations and funnier dialogue. Still, there’s a good-naturedness to the whole enterprise that makes it pleasing despite its lack of truly inspired moments. That spirit is furthered largely by attention paid to a slightly camped-up take on conventions of the grade-B-to-Z films the pic is inspired by: not actual “Mad Max” installments but their cheap Cannon and Italian-made imitations, plus a dash of the era’s juveniles-on-wheels adventures like “Gleaming the Cube” and “BMX Bandits.”

The former genre made ample use of junkyard scraps and empty warehouses as “post-apocalyptic” production design, a cost-cutting measure dutifully amplified here; both specialized in the kind of heavy synth-dancepop crap perfectly distilled by Le Matos’ original score. Even the sheer mediocrity of certain elements (Ironside’s blah villain, some pedestrian dialogue) that should have invited some clever spoofing feels apt enough as a reflection of the vintage cinematic lameness to which “Turbo Kid” pays homage.

All best known for TV series work, Chambers, Jeffery, and Lebeouf (whose character at first seems as though she’ll wear out her welcome fast) lend considerable likability to their faithfully one-dimensional parts. Design/tech elements are pro in entertainingly cheesy ways, from the low-grade visual effects to the manner in which d.p. Jean-Philippe Bernier’s lensing only underlines the budget-consciousness of cheap outdoor or abandoned-warehouse settings in its very aspect-ratio expansiveness.

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Sundance Film Review: 'Turbo Kid'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 28, 2015. Running time: 95 MIN.

Production: (Canada-New Zealand) An EMA Films and T&A Films presentation in association with Epic Pictures Group, Raven Banner Releasing and Filmoption Intl. (International sales: Epic Pictures Group, Los Angeles.) Produced by Anne-Marie Gelinas, Ant Timpson, Benoit Beaulieu, Tim Riley. Executive producers, Jason Eisener, Patrick Ewald, Shaked Berenson, Michael Paszt, Stephanie Trepanier, Jean-Francois Ferland, Matt Noonan.

Crew: Directed, written by Anouk Whissell, Francois Simard, Yoann-Karl Whissel. Camera (color, widescreen), Jean-Philippe Bernier; editor, Luke Haigh; music, Le Matos; art director, Sylvain Lemaitre; costume designer, Eric Poirier; visual effects supervisor, Jean-Francois Ferland; stunt coordinator, Tyler Hall; sound mixer, Maxime Dumesnil; re-recording mixer, Dick Read; assistant director, Nathalie Goulet.

With: Munro Chambers, Laurence Lebeouf, Aaron Jeffery, Edwin Wright, Romano Orzari, Michael Ironside.

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