Future cult classic alert! It takes an incredibly delicate touch to zip back and forth between a wholesome tale of friendship and the most exaggerated ultraviolence imaginable and have it work in harmony. TURBO KID is a bit of a marvel in that regard and is unquestionably the best BMX-based post-apocalypse movie you’re likely to see.
In the future, society has broken down and scavengers and raiders roam the wasteland on bikes (not the noisy kind). A kid (Munro Chambers) with a tragic past and a love of superheroes meets a strange girl (Laurence Leboeuf) in the wilderness and gets drawn into a battle against a tyrant (Michael Ironside). Only his super-suit and his trusted BMX can save him and free everyone else.
Apple is my joint-favourite movie character of 2015, tied with her (mild spoiler) fellow robot Ava from EX MACHINA. She’s the ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl, only more deranged and with dreams of her own and a real arc to her story. She conforms to that much-criticised archetype to begin with, then Laurence Leboeuf smashes through the limitations of the character with a raw and heartfelt performance. This, combined with the earnestness of Munro Chambers’ Turbo Kid and the chemistry they have together throughout their journey helps make this story an endearing and memorable one.
It’s nice to see Michael Ironside having fun again too. All too often in recent years has he been stuck with uninspired roles playing the general in everything. He seems to have remembered that he can do a whole lot more than look sternly at computer screens. Yes, he’s playing an authority figure again here, but he gets to be a proper maniacal bastard, and his glee (and an Ironside smile is terrifying) at watching the carnage he orders unfold in front of him is palpable.
The film is a great advert for transnational filmmaking: independent film studios from Canada and New Zealand, an international cast and some production design and effects wizards who clearly deserve more widespread recognition all working in unison to produce a very satisfying whole. We’ve seen Hollywood directors (Tarantino, Scorsese) offering their patronage to independent filmmakers and lesser-known foreign auteurs before, but it’s also good to see smaller studios banding together to get their products out their under their own esteem.
Too often with sci-fi movies the effects get in the way of the ideas. Sometimes even if the ideas remain the focus they aren’t enough to make up for an uninspiring plotting and characters. Gratifyingly, the makers of Turbo Kid (writer-directors François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell) know that a compelling story starts with great characters. They don’t have to be especially complex, but they have to be well-defined and with clear motivations. It’s absolutely key that the characters here are strong and that it doesn’t take itself remotely seriously beyond making sure the central relationship works. If this aspect of Turbo Kid’s writing and performance fell flat there wouldn’t be a whole lot to fall back on because the budget is only one step removed from cardboard sets and shop-bought kids’ Halloween costumes and the filmmakers can only just afford to utilise a single quarry location.
If I’m honest, when I saw Turbo Kid advertised I expected passable schlock. Schlock is delivered in spades from the copious blood-splatter and dismemberment to the unashamedly B-movie dialogue and hammy performances. But gratifyingly overall it turns out to be a pulpy treat that overcomes its budgetary limitations and low-brow trappings with verve, intelligence and a can-do attitude. More like this please and the film landscape might become a better place. SSP