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Playing the shell game once again

June 3, 2016
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'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows'

The 2014 attempt to reboot the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a misfire pretty much across the board. The story was boring and barely coherent, the CGI bordered on the horrifying and the live-action performances ranged from disinterested to abysmal.

So obviously, a sequel was in order.

The Michael Bay-produced 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows' had all the hallmarks of your standard franchise downward spiral. Anyone with half a brain could tell you that this was going to be a bad movie, and yetperhaps the drastically low expectations did this movie a favor.

This movie is not terrible, and 'not terrible' is actually a pretty solid win for a movie like this.

The film follows the events of the first film. The titular turtles leader Leonardo (Pete Ploszek, TV's 'Teen Wolf'), brainiac Donatello (Jeremy Howard, TV's 'Mighty Med'), brute Raphael (Alan Ritchson, 'The Wedding Ringer') and free spirit Michelangelo (Noel Fisher, TV's 'Shameless') are still living in the sewers with their sensei Splinter (Tony Shaloub, 'Custody').

The turtles are still tight with April O'Neill (Megan Fox, TV's 'New Girl'), who is still doing the investigative journalism thing her latest target is a super scientist named Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry, 'Madea's Tough Love') who she suspects of having ties to the incarcerated Shredder (Brian Tee, TV's 'Chicago Med'). Meanwhile, April's former cameraman Vern (Will Arnett, 'Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping') has become a New York celebrity after taking credit for Shredder's earlier defeat at the behest of the turtles.

It turns out that Stockman's plan is to break Shredder free during a prisoner transport. The scheme results in the freeing of two thugs named Rocksteady (pro wrestler Sheamus) and Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams, TV's 'The Soul Man') along with teleporting Shredder to another dimension where he encounters the sentient brain-being known as Krang (Brad Garrett, TV's 'Fargo'). Young prison guard Casey Jones (Stephen Amell, TV's 'Arrow') is held responsible for the escape and put on suspension by Chief Vincent (Laura Linney, 'Mr. Holmes').

Of course, Krang has decided that he would like to invade our dimension and take over Earth. Shredder thinks that's a great plan, and so enlists his allies including Stockman and the newly-mutated Rocksteady and Bebop to help retrieve the parts needed to build a machine that will open a hole between the dimensions and allow Krang to use his massive Technodrome war machine against humanity.

All that stands between mankind and the end of the world are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and April and Casey Jones and Vern kind of) who must overcome their own interpersonal issues in time to become the team that humanity needs.

Let's be clear, this is not a good movie. However, it also embraces a simple reality that the previous installment largely ignored this is a movie for kids. In every respect that matter, 'Out of the Shadows' is a cartoon, with thin and/or non-existent motivations for character choices, logical leaps that make for narrative confusion and lots of bright colors and explosions. Not to mention a soundtrack that aside from an occasional nod to the source material seems to have been assembled almost at random.

And it all works. Sort of.

Director Dave Green works from a script by Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec. It's all very workmanlike; everyone involved on the production side is obviously a professional, but also not particularly invested in the film. The effects work is strong, with some good action set pieces. They've also made some adjustments to the character designs, making the turtles less off-putting to look at, which is nice. It's all competently done; there's not a ton of spark to it, but it is well ahead of what the first movie managed.

As for the performances, wellthey're about what you'd expect. There's some decent work on the vocal side of things all four turtles do a pretty good job. Tony Shaloub sounds like he may have literally phoned in his lines, but Brad Garrett does some fair scenery gnawing as the veiny, brainy Krang. Sheamus and Williams are fine. On the live-action side of things, Fox offers up her usual dead-eyed expressionlessness. Arnett comes off as vaguely ashamed to be here, while Perry puffs and blows through his scenes with gleeful shamelessness. Seriously Perry might as well be wearing his Madea wig for all the nuance he's bringing to the table. Amell is actually pretty good. And if someone could tell me how they hell they got Laura Linney to agree to this crap, that'd be great I imagine it's a hell of a story.

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows' is the closest thing to a family-friendly Michael Bay movie you're ever likely to see. The jokes are dumb, the story is nonsensical and no one seems particularly thrilled to be there, but it's still an improvement from the last one. All in all, it could have been worse.

[2 out of 5]

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