The snail gang in "Turbo."
The elasticity of magical realism is a funny thing. We will believe a man can fly. We will believe a boy can have his wish to be "big." But stretch your internal logic too far and an audience may balk. Take "Turbo," for example.
In this CGI-animated adventure from DreamWorks, a garden snail wants nothing more than to be fast as a race car. Since it's the premise of the movie, we're bound to accept that an accidental swim through a nitrous-oxide-flooded engine will give Theo the snail his wish. But this magical occurrence also installs a car radio in Theo and brake lights in his butt (if snails had butts, that is). While these installations are technically no more or less impossible than sudden snail super-speed, tell that to our not-so-willing suspension of disbelief.
I speak for the adults in the audience, of course, and not so much the kids, who will probably ho-hum their way through "Turbo" happily enough and forget it moments later. But they deserve better, too, than this lackluster, generic kiddie flick.
Re-christened Turbo, Theo (Ryan Reynolds) continues to enjoy lucky coincidences and a minimum of strife or effort in achieving his goals. Leaving the garden but not his worrywart brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) behind, Turbo gets discovered by taco-shack co-proprietor Tito (Michael Pena), who -- you'll never guess! -- regularly holds snail races at Dos Bros Tacos.
Yep, Tito has a doubting-thomas brother, too (Luis Guzman's Angelo), but neither Turbo nor Tito will be dissuaded from their dreams of the big time. Soon, they've set their sights on the Indy 500, which, after Turbo becomes a viral sensation, bows to public pressure and allows the snail to race against the likes of French-Canadian five-time Indy champ Guy Gagne (Bill Hader). As per Turbo's mantra, "No dream is too big, and no dreamer too small."
Never mind that Turbo doesn't so much as train in a montage, instead leaping right into a life-threatening profession he's witnessed only on TV. Co-writer/director David Soren and his co-writers Robert Siegel and Darren Lemke still manage to fit in "Eye of the Tiger" and "We Are the Champions." Points, though, for including one that's not a cliche: the Jackson Five's "Goin' Back to Indiana."
Owing in part to visual consultant Wally Pfister (Christopher Nolan's Oscar-winning cinematographer), the film's near-photo-real speedway animation impresses, right from the opening "helicopter shot." And the voice cast, which also includes Snoop Dogg and Samuel L. Jackson, isn't really to blame for the uninvolving characters and plot.
Let's just say that Chet has it right when he critiques the nature of racing around one track. Who wouldn't get bored by the monotony of "Left turn, left turn, left turn ... "
Rated PG for mild action and thematic elements. One hour, 36 minutes.
- Peter Canavese