It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Turbo" is just strange and lively enough to make you wish it were better.
This DreamWorks animated picture has an appealingly bizarre premise—a racecar-crazy snail (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) dreams of competing in the Indianapolis 500—and its sense of humor is so odd that at times you wonder if the movie is savaging the very cliches that it would not exist without. If only.
There's a "Rudy"-like hero Theo, aka. Turbo, who studies old VHS cassettes of Indy 500 races and tries to get his time up to maybe one meter per day. There's Theo's brother Chet (Paul Giamatti), who works at "the plant" (a tomato garden) alongside Turbo and cautions him to put aside his unrealistic dreams. He ends up helping him achieve them after Turbo gets pulled into a street racecar's engines and granted magical powers through a process I don't understand, and am probably not meant to. There's also a team of misfit (and multiracial, if only by voice and body language) pals who spark Turbo's enthusiasm and rally to his defense: the volatile Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), the flirtatious and saucy Burn (Maya Rudolph), the jocular Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg), and White Shadow (Steve Bell), a big mollusk who has but one catch phrase and uses it even when it doesn't make any sense. There's an enthusiastic human dreamer, too—a beefy kid named Tito (Michael Peña)who adopts our snail hero and makes his freak-of-nature speed the centerpiece of a PR plan. Tito operates Dos Bros Taco Stand with his older brother Angelo (Luis Guzman). Their relationship mirrors Turbo and Chet's in ways both large and small.
There are a lot of touches like these—touches that suggest that director David Soren, his cowriters Robert Siegel and Darren Lemke, and his animators, artists and sound designers have tried to trick-out a factory-issued vehicle with custom decals, gladiator rims and neon lights. The film's dialogue is smarter than it needed to be to pass muster with families who aren't looking for art so much as decent focus and comfortable seats. I like how Turbo tends to "lawyer" the other characters' insults and proclamations, pouncing on grammatical errors and contradictions, tweaking them so subtly that they aren't always sure if they've been tweaked. ("Your trash talk is needlessly complicated," Whiplash warns him.) Some of the running gags verge on satire, such as the acidic portrayal of Turbo's hero, the preening, callous racing champ Guy Gagne (Bill Hader), and a crazy action sequence near the midway point in which the snails seem to be surfing on power lines while House of Pain's "Jump Around" blasts on the soundtrack. The film is never more aware of its own absurdity than when Turbo successfully enters the Indy 500 and his talking snail brother shrieks, "Has the whole world lost its mind?"