I want to go a little easy on Turbo Kid for being a crowd-funded, handcrafted labor of love. It’s hard work to get any movie made, so hats off. I hope it finds the audience it’s looking for. But I enjoyed almost none of it. It’s just not for me, as it is undeniably part of a trend for which I’ve lost all patience. It’s a pre-fab cult item, a hodgepodge of influences made deliberately awkward and over-the-top in hopes of playing on nostalgia for cheap cult items of the past. This one is a faux-80’s kids’ movie crossed with the most outlandish gore, like a Mad Max knockoff was in a head-on collision with BMX Bandits then crashed through a factory pumping fake blood and body parts. The intent is to play up cheesy affectations (like narration opening the movie telling us it’s set in the nuclear winter wasteland of the far future…1997), cheap design (a supporting character wears what is essentially a laundry basket turned over on his head), and silly sound effects, promising a juvenile entertainment cackling at preposterously bloody violence, galumphing thin plot, and self-conscious camp.
Written and directed by Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell as an expansion of their prior short film, the feature runs an exhausted 95 minutes, spinning its wheels in an underpopulated and under-imagined world, wall-to-wall synth score underlining every empty plot point. We follow The Kid (Degrassi’s Munro Chambers), a cute teen with a mop of shaggy hair and permanent look of innocent befuddlement, even when hacking apart a baddie, arterial spray coating his bangs. He’s decked out in bright red armor as he rides his bike through whatever abandoned lots and empty warehouses the production could make look suitably post-apocalyptic. It’s in this environment, shot in flat digital brightness and fleshed out with a sparse sound effects library, he encounters a Bad Guy named Zeus (Michael Ironside sporting an ugly eye patch), and Apple, a friendly chipper robot who looks like a teenage girl (Laurence Leboeuf). They get involved in the usual barren wasteland scuffles over resources and revenge.
It’s one of those movies that try to make their cheapness and derivativeness an asset by deliberately muddying the line between bad and “bad,” slathering everything in a suffocating layer of irony and imprisoning every last frame in air quotes. Even the opening production company logo brags, “#1 in Laserdisc!” There are no characters to care about or plot to get involved in when the entire aim is for a midnight movie audience to embrace its winking references to genuine cult classics (a little RoboCop here, a little Road Warrior there), snicker at stilted dialogue (“Try avoiding people, especially those who look evil…”) and groove on its nasty weirdness and retro future. It’s a movie where a villain has his hand cut off and stands in front of the camera as red syrup spurts across the lens, looking as confused as we are that this little detail is taking up so much screen time. By the time eyes have been gouged, saw-blades have been thrown, and one head is hacked into three dangling pieces, it’s all just numbing, no matter how many tube televisions feature into “future” technology.
I understand the appeal of being in on the joke. But why go see a Turbo Kid (or a Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, or a Hobo with a Shotgun, or a WolfCop, or…) where the whole point is to jokingly replicate low budget filmmaking of yore, when you could just see the genuine article? Here’s a movie that achieves its narrow goals completely, but at no point was an actual full-fledged movie part of the goal. At least Roger Corman pictures, even the bad ones, were trying to genuinely exploit a concept, and maybe even make a good movie in the process. When you start with the idea of making a bad movie, of course that’s what you’ll end up with. Why even bother? I’d rather see filmmakers take their junk food cinema influences and make something new out of them (see Tarantino, Edgar Wright, the best of Robert Rodriguez). You simply can’t substitute a wink for cleverness, or a reference for creativity.