It’s difficult to tell what audience director Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans) and producer Michael Bay had in mind while bringing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back to the big screen. Is it the kids drawn to the hit animated Nickelodeon reboot or the middle-aged crowd looking to reconnect with yet another thing they loved in their youth?
The filmmakers never came up with a resolution, which is why we have a reported $125 million effects parade with a crippling identity problem. The movie doesn’t even seem that committed to its titular stars: The fussily art-directed, needlessly creepy-looking reptiles stay on the outskirts of the film for biblical gaps, leaving put-upon TV reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and lovelorn sidekick Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) to shoulder the burden of Turtles‘ dumb-as-nunchucks ransom plot, which finds evil blade fetishist Shredder trying to unleash a chemical attack on New York.
Turtles contains a spectacular car chase down a snow-capped mountain that recalls Bay’s hyper-adrenalized highway stunts in Bad Boys II, and it opens with a bravura comics-inspired credit sequence. Those too-brief thrills only shine a harsher light on the film’s laborious pacing and cringeworthy one-liners spilling from the maws of the ninja teens. Still, it can revel in this tiny victory: In the battle between Bay-produced jumbles of ’80s kid nostalgia, Turtles is head-and-shell better than Transformers. Cowabunga? C+