Unless you're an eight-year-old just getting acquainted with them, you probably made up your mind about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles long, long ago. After all, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's heroes in a half-shell debuted thirty years ago, when their cheeky action adventures had the foresight to spoof the '80s even while they were happening.
Well, they're back on the big screen again for a fifth go-round after three nineties live-action films and a 2007 CGI-animated one-off. The new picture, titled simply Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, blends live-action (most of the settings and all of the humans) with CGI (most of the action and all of the non-human characters). And you're either really excited to see them again (and, if so, may I just say, "Cowabunga, dude") or have already turned to something more interesting, like the real estate listings.
So that leaves it to me to describe the reboot by Jonathan Liebesman, a Hollywood go-to-guy for mid-range horror pictures and actioners no one else wants (Wrath of the Titans, anyone?). Look, despite the looming presence of crap-maestro Michael Bay as producer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn't so terrible. It fits the brief, as it were, with some variations on the concept that don't challenge the fundamentals, four of which are in the title. So the TMNT—Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello—study ninjitsu under a similarly mutated rat named Splinter (to whom an unbilled Tony Shalhoub gives voice) and make their debut as vigilantes battling back the criminal Foot Clan.
This gets the attention of fluff-piece reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox), who aspires to serious journalism and turns out to have all sorts of history with the people and creatures currently making news: industrialist Eric Sachs (William Fichtner), the Turtles, and Splinter. Pulling the strings of the Foot Clan is Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), a big guy in a robotic samurai suit who seems to have escaped from one of Bay's Transformers flicks. O'Neil's surprising ties to the Turtles may rankle purists, but to be fair, this isn't War and Peace. It's a movie with a nunchuk-wielding reptile standing over six feet tall, drooling over pizza, and making boner jokes about Megan Fox. So we can be choosy about what we complain about.
To be fair to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it's aimed squarely at action-loving tykes, and they'll duly love it. The script is an unironic throwback to '80s action movies (okay, some irony when they make Batman cracks), and though the blank Fox is less a star than a placeholder, her foil is Will Arnett as a funny cameraman. Most of the one-liners are pretty lame, but kids won't agree, and they'll be held rapt by the head-spinning (3D, if you want it) action, from acrobatic fights to an insane chase down a snowy mountain and a climax over Times Square ripped wholesale from The Amazing Spider-Man. And what does it all amount to? Nothing more than a seemingly self-descriptive bit of scripting uttered by Arnett: "Froth. It's nice."