Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Movie Review: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (1990)

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Movie"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"
Director: Steve Barron
Year: 1990
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

A crime wave has been plaguing New York City, and so far, the police have no leads. Investigative reporter April O'Neil (Judith Hoag), on the other hand, believes the crimes were perpetrated by an underground Japanese crime syndicate known as The Foot Clan. April's assertion ruffles a lot of feathers and the leader of the Foot Clan, Shredder (James Saito), sends his martial arts trained soldiers to silence her. She is attacked by the Foot, but is rescued by a group of giant nutant ninja turtles. These turtles have live in the NYC sewer for the last 15 years. They were mutated by a weird green ooze and were raised by a rat named Splinter (Kevin Clash), who was also mutated by the ooze. He taught them ninjitsu, which he learned watching his old owner, who was a martial arts master. Splinter named the turtles Leonardo (Brian Tochi), Michelangelo (Robbie Rist), Donatello (Corey Feldman) and Raphael (Josh Pais). When The Foot takes revenge on the turtles by kidnapping Splinter, the turtles set out to rescue him and bring down Shredder and the Foot Clan with the help of April and a newly befriended vigilante named Casey Jones (Elias Coteas).

Oh, to be a child of the 80's! That's good enough on its own, but we also got to be part of the best decade and grew with "TMNT: The Animated Series," too, which means being treated to a fairly decent martial arts themed live action version of our beloved show. This film version of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" holds a special place in our hearts, not just as kids of the 80's, but as movie lovers, too. It shows that you don't need an over-bloated budget and flashy CGI and crazy special effects to make a good Ninja Turtles movie. All you need is four martial arts stuntmen willing to perform their craft in foam-rubber turtle suits and a few decent voice actors to help bring the characters to life. That, plus lots of snark and one-liners. We will say that Jim Henson's workshop certainly did a good job on the turtle costumes, as well as the Splinter puppet, too. Even by today's standards, the puppets and costumes were well executed and are really awesome in general, and they even hold up well today.

The plot of this movie is simple enough. It's your basic vigilante justice film where both the hero and the villain are martial arts trained, which leads to a lot of good hand-to-hand combat scenes. The fight scenes are never dumbed down to simple gun violence, like in Michael Bay's latest overproduced atrocity, and instead, this version offers a lot of cool ninjitsu, karate and kung-fu combat. The characters are likable and ones you want to root for as an audience member, unlike the new updated turtles we ended up not giving a shit about at all. Here, they each have their own unique qualities and these are brought out by their respective voice actors. Michaelangelo, voiced by Robbie Rist, is the comic relief, always looking to say his next joke; Raphael, voiced and performed by Josh Pais, is the tough guy who is stoic and tries to walk a separate path than his brothers; Donatello, voiced by Corey Feldman, is the geek, and finally Leonardo, voiced by Brian Tochi, is the strong leader of the group. Their traits all clash, but in the end, they come together to make a very cohesive unit. This film also boasts an early performance by Sam Rockwell as the Head Thug, so it was cool to spot him now and see where he was before he was as an established adult actor. Elias Koteas is my favorite. Casey Jones as a character has so much personality and his sports-type vigilante allowed him to have something in common with the turtles. Judith Hoag, who plays April O'Neil, is no ditz. She is a respected journalist with a hell of a lot of integrity and is always searching for the truth, no matter how much the consequences. Beyond the characters, the camera angles in the movie are switched up quite a bit here and there and seem a little different than those you'd typically find in a movie for kids. The movie's message also stresses the importance of family, as well as not getting caught up with those who only promise a flashy, materialistic lifestyle in order to exploit you.

This movie was a relatively inexpensive film to make and it made its budget back ten-fold. To us, it is an underrated classic kids movie before a time where casual swearing, innuendos and general teenage buffoonery were deemed inappropriate by parents. Sure, there is an extreme level of camp and silliness to it, but that's part of its overall charm and why we love it so much.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 45%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!! (if only for the nostalgia factor)

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