Mark Reviews Movies



3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Soren

Cast: The voices of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Peña, Luis Guzmán, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Ken Jeong, Michelle Rodriguez, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Rudolph, Ben Schwartz, Kurtwood Smith, Snoop Dogg

MPAA Rating: PG (for some mild action and thematic elements)

Running Time: 1:36

Release Date: 7/17/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 17, 2013

It seems like there should be an old joke in the premise of Turbo. "Did you ever hear the one about the snail that wanted to be a professional racer?" It's funny how the setup to a joke could easily be the setup for a fable.

That's what screenwriters Darren Lemke, Robert D. Siegel, and David Soren (the last of whom also directed) are going for with the film—a fable with animal heroes, a modern-day setting, and a lesson probably as old as stories with morals themselves. One can be whatever he or she wants to be if only the person believes—and undergoes a chemical mutation that makes the accomplishment of that dream an actual possibility.

This is a fable that features a snail being sucked into the engine of a muscle car and gaining unnatural speed after its body—right down to its very DNA, in fact—makes contact with nitrous oxide. Yes, it's silly, but this is a film that embraces its silliness as much as it embraces the formula of the story of an underdog that makes good. The story—familiar thought it may be—contains some pleasant, if requisite, moments of overcoming adversity and doubt, brotherly bonding, and big triumphs for the little hero, but it's the silliness—tinged occasionally with a bit of wicked humor—that endears the film to us.

Turbo (voice of Ryan Reynolds) is a seemingly ordinary garden snail that dreams of glory on the racetrack. He spends his nights replaying his favorite racecar driver Guy Gagné's (voice of Bill Hader) victory at the Indianapolis 500. Positioning his body on the television (and repositioning himself with the changes of angle in the presentation) to imagine he's right there on track and keeping ahead of his hero, Turbo proceeds to test his own speed. He sets up a straight-line course of a one-foot ruler and, with all his might, speeds from one end to the other in 17 minutes.

He's a delusional snail, but there's something inherently charming about his delusion. It's not like it will do anyone any harm; he is, after all, just a snail.

Life is a monotonous grind for his fellow mollusks. They head out to work every day, climb the stalks of tomato plants in the garden, and try to find ripe specimens to knock down so they can stop for lunch. Occasionally, the kid next door, nicknamed "Shell Crusher," shows up on his tricycle looking for snails so he can—you guessed it—crush shells.

More often, a random crow will dive into the group and pick up this snail or that one for its own meal. "There goes" whoever it was, Turbo's brother Chet (voice Paul Giamatti), the snails' safety coordinator, intones with the lack of feeling of someone who has become desensitized to seeing one of his snail brethren disappear into the talons of crows. There's really nothing to do but resolve oneself to the fact that it's going to happen, and it does—often.

This is the sort of wickedness of some of the film's humor, and it comes completely out of nowhere for no reason but to disarm the otherwise cheery tone suggested by the film's colorful but still mostly natural palette. The crows come, yes, but there's also a bit of karma to their attacks, delivered by the perfectly timed passing of a bus. The film, which is really about upsetting the natural order of things, still knows how to get a few laughs by simply keeping to that order.

The balance of nature is thrown out of whack when Turbo, distraught over almost dying while trying to beat a lawnmower to a particularly juicy tomato, wanders across the city and finds himself on top of a car involved in a street race. As mentioned before, he's sucked into the engine and is infused with nitrous oxide, giving him the ability to travel at over 200 miles per hour while leaving a neon-blue streak in his path.

Turbo and Chet are fired after Turbo gets revenge on Shell Crusher, and after another encounter with a crow, the two brothers find themselves at rundown shopping center. Tito (voice of Michael Peña), the co-owner of a taco stand, happens to have a hobby of racing snails (Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Rudolph, Ben Schwartz, and Snoop Dogg voice the odd group of other snails) with the owners of other shops in the plaza (voiced by Richard Jenkins, Michelle Rodriguez, and Ken Jeong), and Turbo becomes his prized racer and his plan to try to attract customers. In another coincidence, Tito's brother Angelo (voice of Luis Guzmán), like Chet, thinks his brother is delusional and doesn't believe in his younger sibling's strange dream. Eventually, Tito, with a suggestion highlighted in neon by Turbo, comes up with a plan to enter Turbo in the Indianapolis 500.

Everything that follows is fairly predictable (A song mixed from a the audio of a kid's video of watching Turbo run the time trial is not), but the characters and their progressions are simply too appealing for that predictability to hinder the film's charm. Turbo is especially effective in the extended climactic race, which has legitimate stakes for our hero (the tires alone) and a real flair for the visual dynamism of a race from a snail's-eye view.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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