I wish I felt more passionately—positive or negative—for the latest attempt to get the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES back into the cultural spotlight. Clearly inspired by by the recent wave of superhero movies, this version of the turtles stick to the same basic origin story, but gives the reptiles a little more grit and attitude. Their shells are worn and chipped, their usually colorful green forms are muted and worn in. Their voices still reveal their hyper-teenage brains (with the exception of Johnny Knoxville, inexplicably brought in to voice Leonardo), but they are forced to deal with some very dark and serious situations that could result in some nasty business courtesy of their old enemy Shredder.
The biggest (but far from only) problem with the new TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is the the genuine fun has been all but wiped from these characters. I certainly wasn't looking for a retread, but I was hoping to laugh and smile a bit. Instead, the heroes are being beaten to a pulp, put at real risk of death (or those around them are), and just generally being put in the middle of some truly grim situations. Director Jonathan Liebesman (DARKNESS FALLS, BATTLE LOS ANGELEES, WRATH OF THE TITANS) doesn't seem to have any real affection for the turtles, and if he does, it doesn't show. I'm not too traumatized about their new, more humanoid look the way some are, but it doesn't really add much to the film either, the way, I don't know, a story or minor character development might.
Speaking of empty characters, the humans in the film might be worse than the turtles, beginning with Megan Fox as reporter April O'Neil, who is investigating the existence of a New York crime organization known as the Foot Clan (led by Shredder), along with her wacky, flirty cameraman Vern (Will Arnett, who you just have to feel sorry for every second of this film). TMNT's one semi-saving grace is the occasional appearances of William Fichtner as Eric Sachs, who runs a firm that is somehow responsible for the entirety of New York City's security (presumably supplementing real police) and was once a good friend and co-worker of April's father, so naturally that's enough to make her trust him, ignoring the fact that he's William Fuckin' Fichtner.
The film's "story" picks up right as both the Foot Clan and the turtles are on the verge of coming out of hiding and making themselves known to the world. Tony Shalhoub voices the turtles' sensei, Master Splinter, a giant rat with a fu manchu mustache and other weird body hair, who seems to know every secret in this film before it's even posed to him. I loathe lazy writing that features characters that possess crucial information that would save themselves and their loved ones pain, but they hold onto it until the plot dictates they must. I don't care if these aren't humans or not, upright creatures don't act that way. And if they do, why should I care about them?
Speaking of upright creatures, Megan Fox is a horrible actor; I'm not sure if anyone has ever pointed this out before, but she's just awful, especially here. And the only thing more painful than experiencing her acting is watching her try to pretend to be an in-the-field broadcast journalist. Painful, pure and simple. I don't think I've ever really gone after her as an actor because she makes it easy to get blinded to it. But in TMNT, she's striving to be taken seriously as a journalist, which I'm all for, but her idea of serious is to be stiff and boring and forget what emotions are. Groot was less wooden than Fox is here.
There are a couple of flashy fight sequences that are at least somewhat interesting, if only because the effects are so good that it's sometimes tough to tell what is real is what is digital. But the rest either involves characters that are supposed to be smart acting like morons or countdowns to catastrophic events that are stopped short exactly when you think they will. I used to think the worst thing for a film like this to be is boring, but TMNT has proven that being pointless might be worse. The film was produced by Michael Bay and the folks at Platinum Dunes, and for a fleeting moment, I believed that might actually be the ones for this job. But after the 14th slow-motion martial arts fight sequence, I was ready to crawl back in my shell.