'Turbo Kid': Sundance Review

Turbo Kid
Courtesy of Sundance International Film Festival
An endearingly sincere romp through '80s popcorn-flick tropes

A bloody BMX ride into yesteryear's future

In a few months, George Miller will deliver a 21st-century interpretation of the world he created in 1979's Mad Max. The three-person collective called RKSS has no desire for such modernization: A post-apocalyptic adventure that might well have been made in the early Eighties and discovered when the world's last VHS store emptied its storage locker, their Turbo Kid mixes innocent kid-stuff action with the kind of outlandish gore many of the era's teens covertly devoured on video. A pitch-perfect pastiche that never mocks its inspirations, the picture is silly fun to warm the hearts of aging fanboys and delight hipsters who weren't yet born the first time Mel Gibson donned Max's leathers. It will play well at fests and in specialty bookings, and is sure to endear the three filmmakers — Anouk Whissell, François Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissell — to genre diehards.

"This is the future: The year 1997," a solemn voice intones, and we know it's a future imagined decades ago because it is acid rain, not global warming, that has devastated the world we see. The Kid (Munro Chambers) lives solo in an underground bunker, scavenging for ancient consumer goods (hello, Rubik's Cube) he can trade for bottles of incredibly scarce drinking water. The water supply is controlled by the sadistic, emperor-like Zeus (genre stalwart Michael Ironside), who will soon come gunning for the Kid and a rough-and-tumble dude named Frederick the Arm-Wrestler (Aaron Jeffery). Before that, the Kid befriends Apple (Laurence Leboeuf), a pink-haired girl whose bizarrely enthusiastic optimism in the face of the apocalypse recalls Will Ferrell's role in Elf. ("We're going scavenging? I love scavenging!!!")

Leboeuf's unrestrained performance carries the film in some of the moments at which its novelty might've worn thin. But for those with a soft spot for these genres, those moments don’t come often. Though the movie's villains owe mainly to Mad Max, its plot moves to a poppier beat, with its dirtbike chases recalling 1983's BMX Bandits (which starred newcomer Nicole Kidman) and dozens of more famous, mostly forgotten Hollywood productions in which adolescents get into grown-up trouble. Conspicuous references to Lucas and Spielberg abound, but from the exacting musical mimicry in Le Matos' synthy score to the pic's Atari-era credits, the movie is less about any one filmmaking influence than about storytelling tropes any kid at the mall could spot a mile away.

Much of the film's comedy comes from the grafting of these PG-rated beats to fight scenes involving extreme, Fangoria-grade gore — decapitations, disembowelments, and fountains of blood that make Saturday Night Live's Julia Child sketch look like a paper cut. All done with practical effects, the giddy carnage pairs surprisingly well with teen-geared fun and even makes a hilarious backdrop for Turbo Kid's most romantic scene. The violence would have caused heart attacks among those who objected to the PG rating given to 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. That furor led to the PG-13 designation, but even those who lobbied for the more lenient label couldn't have imagined a movie as innocently blood-splattered as this.


Production company: EMAfilms, T&A Films

Cast: Munro Chambers, Laurence Leboeuf, Aaron Jeffery, Edwin Wright, Romano Orzari, Michael Ironside

Directors-Screenwriters: Anouk Whissell, François Simard, Yoann-Karl Whissell

Producers: Anne-Marie Gélinas, Ant Timpson, Benoit Beaulieu, Tim Riley

Executive producers: Jason Eisener, Patrick Ewald, Shaked Berenson, Michael Paszt, Stéphanie Trépanier, Jean-François Ferland, Matt Noonan

Director of photography: Jean-Philippe Bernier

Production designer: Sylvain Lemaitre

Costume designer: Éric Poirier

Editor: Luke Haigh

Music: Le Matos

Sales: Epic Pictures

No rating, 94 minutes