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Simon Read [Celluloid 07.02.15] Canada post apocalyptic apocalyptic scifi horror action thriller adventure

Turbo Kid is the first feature from the Canadian filmmaking collective of François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell. The film pays homage to '80s post-apocalyptic action/sci-fi, playing up the inherent ludicrousness of schlocky B-movies, and presenting itself as an affectionate spoof. While it isn't quite as funny as it might have been (at least not on initial viewing) the film is well made, imaginative and consistently amusing. I was basically won over by its energy and surreal humour.

We're introduced to a teenager, named simply 'The Kid' (Munro Chambers), who lives in the wastelands of post-apocalyptic America in the year 1997. Pedalling around the scorched landscape on his BMX, he spends his days searching for scrap with which to barter in the local town. The Kid lives in a bunker decorated with colourful '80s junk, and worships his comic book hero, 'Turbo Rider', a poster of whom takes pride of place on his wall. It's a simple existence, but he's happy enough listening to synth-pop on his cassette Walkman and charting his adventures in a little notebook.

When The Kid meets a beautiful, irrepressibly enthusiastic girl named Apple (Laurence Leboeuf), life following the apocalypse seems good for a while. Outside, however, trouble brews. Local warlord, 'Zeus' (Michael Ironside), along with his army of bicycle riding punks, establishes a cruel, authoritarian regime, holding games of gladiatorial combat and executing all who stand in his way. Defending the town is Frederic (Aaron Jeffery), a mysterious, Australian cowboy, whose brother has been kidnapped by Zeus, and who finds himself relying on The Kid and Apple in helping to save the day. Together, this motley crew must learn to work together, before Zeus's ultimate plan leaves the wasteland even more of a wasteland.

Amongst Turbo Kid's strong points is its obvious affection for the PA genre. One can spot nods to movies as influential as The Road Warrior, as obscure as Def-Con 4, and as unloved as Tank Girl, but at the same time, the film has enough ideas of its own that it never becomes a lazy game of spot-the-reference, or worse, a dumb parody of the films from which it is inspired. It chooses to tell its own, original story, and does so with confidence, style and respect.

The lead actors are clearly on board, and understand completely the tone for which the directors are aiming. They don't take the material too seriously (Ironside looks as though he's having a great time), yet they invest their characters with a certain depth, and this helps us to care about them. Leboeuf in particular, in a role which could easily have become an annoying distraction, does well in making Apple someone for whom we develop a genuine fondness. Similarly, Munro has the difficult task of playing The Kid as goofy and naive, and having him grow into a hero over the course of the film (with a little help from Turbo Rider, of course) and that he makes this look easy is a testament to his fine comic timing and natural acting style. The best jokes, however, go to Frederic, a no-nonsense badass whom Jeffrey allows to crack a few smiles now and again, delivering some excellent one-liners in the process.

Zeus's mute henchman, 'Skeletron', played by Edwin Wright (whose face is covered in a giant metal skull mask throughout the film), warrants mention. He's a kind of cross between The Road Warrior's Wes, and Michael Myers, quietly cycling around the desert, and taking a special interest in dispatching our heroes. He is a subtly brilliant creation, and Wright's body language, his physical reactions whenever things go badly wrong, is wonderfully expressive.

The film zips along at a brisk pace, with two or three jokes per minute, a lot of visual gags, and, somewhat surprisingly, a huge amount of gore. Given its essentially sweet nature, I doubt many people in the audience had expected Turbo Kid to be quite so violent, but the occasional fight scenes contain buckets of blood and guts, all hurled around the screen with an infectious sense of fun. From scenes of gladiatorial combat, to the film's main set-piece, a climactic showdown between our heroes and Zeus's gang (easily the highlight of the film), nothing is considered too extreme. These moments contain a wonderful sense of slapstick absurdity which really connects with the character-driven comedy, and somehow it just makes sense within the context of the film. Additionally, the musical score (by French Canadian band Le Matos) lends an enormous amount to the experience of watching this film, replicating the power-synth sounds of a mid-eighties sci-fi movie, a la Vangelis or John Carpenter, and it's used to superb effect throughout. I honestly hope the soundtrack is made available, as it's almost too much fun.

The only real problem I had with Turbo Kid is an entirely subjective one. I didn't find it as funny as I thought it could have been. It is difficult to balance elements of drama, romance, action and comedy, and produce something entirely successful (and let's face it, most modern Hollywood comedies are simply not funny in any respect), but many of the jokes here fell a little flat. More often than not, I found myself simply smiling at the screen and enjoying the film's silliness, as opposed to actually laughing at it. Scenes in which The Kid attempts to 'open' a Rubix Cube because he doesn't understand what it does, or fashions a weapon out of a garden gnome and a stick, are kind of amusing, but overall the humour here feels gentle (this despite all the gore), and as such I craved something more robust. Pointing this out feels mean, like kicking a puppy, as the film is made with such enthusiasm and heart... But it need be said: the film isn't so much 'funny' as it is 'cute'.

Turbo Kid is creative, well crafted, and certainly has some funny moments. This film is easy to recommend, and I will definitely be watching it again, and hopefully introducing some friends to its charms. It is, however, best to approach it as a kind of surreal, futuristic love story with some amusing moments, as opposed to an Astron-6 style comic send-up of the genre to which it pays its respects. Keep this in mind, and I'm sure, like me, you'll have fun with it.

Recommended Release: Escape from the Bronx

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