The good folks at Dreamworks (Shrek series, Kung Fu Panda) have another hit on their hands with Turbo, the story of a garden snail named Chet who, after getting run through a gantlet that would have sent a real-life snail straight to mollusk heaven, transforms into a speed demon the likes of which the animal world has never seen. A fortuitous set of circumstances lands him in the hands of taco salesman Tito, who (conveniently) happens to race snails on the side and sets the gears in motion for his newly renamed prize pupil to enter auto racing’s premier event.
While lacking the narrative complexity and depth of characters that we’ve become used to seeing in animated fare nowadays, Turbo nonetheless is a colorful crowd-pleaser fit for the big-budget summer movie season. Ryan Reynolds’ legion of female fans will have to settle for only hearing his voice this time around, but his work in the title role doesn’t disappoint, and he’s backed up admirably by the likes of Paul Giamatti as Theo’s brother Chet, Michael Pena as Tito, and Samuel L. Jackson and rapper Snoop Dogg as fellow snail racers Whiplash and Smoove Move, respectively.
Turbo races to the finish line in a taut 96 minutes. The plot might be too straightforward for older, more discerning film fans, but there’s still something in it for all ages. Enjoy the ride!
THE VERDICT: 3.5 out of 5 stars
WATCHED: 7/20/13; AMC Courthouse Plaza 8, Arlington, VA
Fast & Furious 6
Now numbering an improbable six installments stretched over a dozen years, the Fast & Furious flicks have also defied the odds by garnering better reviews as the series ages. The trend continues with Fast & Furious 6, which picks up from the cliffhanger ending of 2011’s Fast Five and barrels ahead for 130 minutes of high-octane thrills.
Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and the team are in exile and enjoying their newfound wealth when they’re interrupted by Agent Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), who has a new mission that they can’t possibly refuse: bring down criminal mastermind Shaw (Jude Law-lookalike Luke Evans) and, in the process, reunite with Dom’s presumed-dead girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who’s been photographed by surveillance cameras working for the crime boss. The team reunites in Europe — and the usual mayhem ensues in short order.
While the early movies might have been nothing more than an excuse to show off fast cars, Fast & Furious 6 actually stands out as a clever action thriller that offers much more than mere catnip for car lovers (but don’t worry, there’s plenty of that, too) . The dialogue is often downright hilarious (intentionally so, unlike earlier in the series), and the hand-to-hand combat is neatly choreographed and intense — casting former MMA star Gina Carano as Hobbs’ assistant Riley ratcheted up the ass-kicking quotient, and The Rock even gets to dust off some of his old wrestling moves.
Featuring a more intricate plot than any of its predecessors, Fast & Furious 6 delivers plenty of surprising twists along the way as Dom, Brian and the gang hunt their diabolical alter egos. The final act might stretch the limits of credulity, but it doesn’t take away from what is a heck of a thrill ride. Just make sure you stay through the credits — there’s more mayhem to come in movie number 7, and we can only hope the wait won’t be too long.
VERDICT: 4 out of 5 stars
WATCHED: 7/23/13; University Mall Theatres, Fairfax, VA
Now here’s a can’t-miss formula for summer success: giant robots battling ancient sea creatures for control of the planet. Uncomplicated and loud, Pacific Rim delivers a thrill a minute and the kind of special-effects wizardry that demands to be viewed on a big screen.
After laying waste to cities worldwide, the aforementioned sea creatures, dubbed “Kaiju” by the Japanese, meet their match in the “Jaegers” – mechanical behemoths powered by two pilots who are connected by a neural bridge. After some initial successes against their reptilian foes, the Jaegers suffer massive defeats around the globe, and the entire Jaeger program is eventually driven to the brink of extinction. Desperate to turn the tides against the Kaiju and save the Jaeger program in the process, commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) calls former ace pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) out of self-imposed exile to once again take the reins of his retooled Jaeger, Gipsy Danger, alongside new co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi).
Pacific Rim harkens back to the action thrillers that marked the 1980s and ‘90s; picture a combination of Independence Day, Armageddon and Top Gun — complete with an Australian version of Iceman and Slider. The main characters’ backstories are well-developed, and their interrelationships provide a few surprises. Comic relief comes in the form of bungling scientists Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), as well as Ron Perlman, who threatens to steal the show in a too-short cameo as black-market trader Hannibal Chau. But make no mistake: monsters and machines trump the human element in this film, and the battles between the Jaegers and Kaiju will leave you in awe, if only because of the level of destruction the foes bring about every time they face off.
The plot and the acting are good enough — not that you’re watching for that anyway. Pacific Rim succeeds through good, old-fashioned cinematic action and is a worthy addition to the summer blockbuster lineup.
VERDICT: 3.5 out of 5 stars
WATCHED: 7/14/13; AMC Loews Georgetown 14, Washington, DC