The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a quartet of squat, well-muscled, humanoid-turtle super-heroes with martial-arts paraphernalia strapped to their shells and mouths that break open into wide, friendly grins. Created for the screen by Muppet master Jim Henson, they’re certainly fun to look at. They would have been even more fun had someone bothered to give them personalities.

The Ninja Turtles have very cute names (are you ready to die? — they’re called Michaelangelo (sic), Donatello, Leonardo, and Raphael), they love pizza, and they all converse in the exact same, wide-eyed suburban version of Bill-and-Ted-speak (Hey, dude! Awesome!). Actually, that’s not true: One of them — Raphael — speaks like a New York cabbie. So he sort of has a personality. As for the other three, they’re impossible to tell apart. The Turtles have a Zen master named Splinter, a giant rat who sports a wispy white goatee and dispenses the usual Oriental homilies. He doesn’t really have a personality, either, but then, it’s not every day you get to see an outsize rodent who commands this much respect.

The essential question surrounding Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is ”Will kids go for it?” The answer, I suppose, is yes — but then, I might have gone for it too had I been raised on Nintendo games and the robotic animation that passes for entertainment on today’s Saturday-morning TV. I don’t mean to get all baby-boomer nostalgic on you, but remember when entertainment for children had soul?

For adults, at least, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a dismal, tedious affair. It’s like watching the adventures of four Howard the Ducks. The action scenes are kind of amusing — given the choice, I’d just as soon see giant anthropomorphic reptiles swinging nun-chucks and doing superhuman karate kicks as I would Steven Seagal. But the rest of the movie is all threadbare cliche. When a kids’ flick has nothing to offer but cute special effects, it’s easy to think the filmmakers are patting themselves on the backs for their technical ingenuity. That’s not comic fantasy — that’s marketing. F

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
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