In a crowded movie summer that features as many cash-grab sequels as the summer of 2013 (“Despicable Me 2,” “Monsters University,” another damn “Smurfs”), it is nice to see a family film with the cojones to try something new. Unfortunately, “new” is about the only thing going for “Turbo,” a hyper animated comedy that isn’t quite up to speed.
Still, as movies about a plucky snail who is given the opportunity to fulfill his dream of racing in the Indianapolis 500 after accidentally getting sucked into the turbines of a high-performance race car and given superpowers that make him faster than a locomotive and helps boost the economic sanctity of a fledgling Van Nuys strip mall in the process go, it’s pretty much your only option out there.
Ryan Reynolds voices the adventure-seeking Theo, a garden snail who changes his name to Turbo once he gets the sucked into those turbines and, with the help of a opportunistic taco truck owner, enters the Indy 500 and is awarded the chance to race against his idol, a race car driver named Guy Gagné, who looks like an animated Vincent Cassel.
There are swell messages in “Turbo” about following your dreams no matter how big or small, and the voice cast — which includes Samuel L. Jackson, Paul Giamatti, Michael Peña and Snoop Dogg (or is it Snoop Lion these days?) — is top-notch. The characters are about as distinctive as you can imagine a sextet of candy-colored mollusks can get, and there are a couple of amusing sight gags involving the things snails fear most (salted pretzels, mostly).
So why didn’t “Turbo” charm me the same way as “Monsters University” or “Despicable Me 2”? The problem is that nothing in the movie particularly stands out. There’s a vanilla feeling to “Turbo,” as if it was cranked out quickly to make a quick buck before the next big 3-D family film rolls along. Whenever the film bogs down and threatens to get message-y (Turbo’s brother, Chet, is particularly lecture-y), “Turbo” resorts to cheap gags, some of which are even repeated more than once.
But what’s really off-putting is the movie’s pro-performance enhancement drug stance. “Turbo” doesn’t make it to the big race because he dedicated his life to training. He does it by becoming superhuman. And that way of thinking is the exact opposite of cool.
★★ (out of ★★★★)
Rated PG, because the ratings board thinks that hyperactive cartoons require parental supervision.
96 minutes, 2013.
Director: David Soren. Voices: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti.
Read all of Jesse Hoheisel’s review at AFistfulofPopcorn.com.