Turbo, Review

Stop us if you've heard this one before: A snail races in the Indy 500...literally stop us, because that set-up is where the creativity begins and ends with Turbo.

The plot of Turbo is a bad joke that somehow bounced off the shrugging shoulders of greedy producers, and then found its way from a bazillion gigabytes to multiplex screens, with needless 3D to boot. Worst of all, discussing it feels like a scam to make me sound like a complete bozo. But, here goes:   In Turbo, Ryan Reynolds voices an optimistic snail named Theo, who dreams of being speedy. While he hustles with his fellow snail friends during the day to care for tomatoes in a suburban garden, at night he watches footage of Indy 500 racer Guy Gagne (Bill Hader), who motivates Theo to improve his agility despite his snail physique.   One evening, while moping to himself about his impossible dream, Theo finds himself blown away by the winds of contrived fate onto the top of a car competing in a very illegal Fast & Furious-esque street racing. When Theo is sucked into the car’s engine, instead of being incinerated immediately, he inhales poisonous NOS tank gas, transforming his entire snail biology to match the attributes of a supped-up car. His eyes are headlights, his brain can channel into radio signals, the rear of his shell has blinkers and, most of all, he can “drive” his snail body beyond the speed of 200 MPH.    With this gift, it is then convenient that he is eventually captured by Tito (Michael Pena) a jolly young man who runs a taco stand with his brother Angelo (Luis Guzman) in a depressing Californian shopping corner called Starlight Plaza. Looking to make a cash profit off the mysterious super talent of this random creature like with Michigan J. Frog in the cartoon “One Froggy Evening,” Tito enlists his prized snail into the Indy 500 and takes advantage of the oopsy daisy in the billion dollar event’s rule book, which never states a snail can’t participate. Supported by snail comrades and other business owners of the Starlight Plaza, Theo, now nicknamed Turbo, competes against his new peers like his hero Gagne, while also indirectly setting out to troll the entire institution of sports journalism. 


Of the many voice talents that are thrown into this movie, the strange presence of Paul Giamatti turns out to be the film’s most inspired casting choice. Voicing the disapproving brother of our title hero, Giamatti does well carrying over what most lower budget, live-action movies hire him to do for adults: flare up his nose and bulge his eyes while speaking sternly. Or at least, that’s how one can immediately picture him while listening to his character, who is enlivened by Giamatti’s loud attitude of desperate anxiety.

Like with the albino cop in this month’s The Heat, Turbo presents a gross inequality towards one group of people despite respectfully showing others. It is a nice change to see Latino men presented in a mainstream film without outward stereotyping, but the opposite can be said about this family-friendly movie’s treatment of Asians. Celebrating his calling to snatch up any comedic role laid before him, Ken Jeong provides a grotesque voice for the movie’s sole representation of the Asian race: a crusty old Asian woman who runs a nail salon in Tito’s plaza.

Turbo’s grand prize winner for most depressing voiceover work goes to the otherwise incredible Richard Jenkins, who sounds like the crushed, disparate man he must have been when in the recording booth. With no will to live, he mutters pithy script punchlines like “This is even bigger than Hobby Con!” or “As the kids say, time to plump your ride!”

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Like previous middling animation movie Epic before it, Turbo is indeed the warehouse of visual craftsmanship, especially in its third act. However, the incredible detail to be found in the animation of these sequences is still not enough to recommend Turbo even to animation geeks. It simply provides comfort while a slacker script tells the same comatose joke.

It might be too early to cry “Pixar knockoff” as Turbo slowly shuffles itself into the footnotes of animation history. But, certain elements do seem awkwardly aligned in this empty endeavor. For one, Turbo mirrors the hero’s arc of Up, in which the movie’s humble protagonist takes a journey beyond his regular comfort zone while being inspired by direct phrases of his hero, only to find out when he meets said hero that this idol has been tarnished by selfish interpretations of the once-positive attitudes our lead protagonist had always believed.  

Later, Turbo takes a minute out of its story to present a character-uniting montage that wishes upon a Pixar star for superb sentimentality, even with a piece of music that sounds like it was swiped from Michael Giacchino’s trash bin when he was writing the music to Up. And for those who have American Cinematographer Magazine (like my girlfriend, who pointed this out), Turbo also uses artificial lens flare to create the same realistic effect that Roger Deakins introduced to animation in 2008 with Wall-E.



For a film about a snail that races in the Indy 500, the absurdity of such is not celebrated by a sense of humor that shows any type of comedic craftiness. An animation movie’s usual mission of having something for the kids and then also their parents means clumps of pandering potty humor for all when Turbo digs out tired pop culture references (see: Rocky’s and “Eye of the Tiger”) or playing ad libs with Turbo’s mental soundtrack choices (of which golden oldie “Drop It Like It’s Hot” makes an appearance). As silly films go, Turbo would certainly be easier to go down if any of its jokes showed more creativity than its already insulting narrative.

Surely smart enough to know its plot’s ballooning ridiculousness but without the classiness to resist serious presentations with such cheese, Turbo hides sheepishly behind the thorough irony of its cutesy concept. A spiritually ugly being, it baits pessimists to not get the joke, and simultaneously coddles suckers who believe there is an inspiring sweetness within this forced story of a snail who breathes in NOS gas and becomes powerful and super-de-duper fast, instead of extremely dead.

Den of Geek Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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2 out of 5