By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Four Beers) –
The city of New York is being plagued by a series of mysterious thefts, and in almost no cases have the criminals been identified. These crimes are being committed by the mysterious “Foot Clan”, a street gang who trains its members in the arts of the Ninja, and is led by the enigmatic “Shredder”. Police seem totally unable to stop the crime spree, citizens are helpless. If only there was a rag-tag team of pubescent, genetically deformed reptiles who; guided by a giant, elderly rodent, are trained in martial arts to fight crime. If only they were named after Renaissance-era Italian Artists and craved flatbread baked with coagulated milk protein and toppings. If this sort of group existed, surely they would be able to defeat the Foot Clan and save New York City?
The first theatrical adaptation of the famous comic book and even more popular Saturday morning cartoon series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (hereafter TMNT, not to be confused with the 2007 animated film of the same name) is a crowd-pleasing guilty pleasure if ever there was one. The franchise was originally conceived as a parody of the increasingly ridiculous story concepts permeating comic books of the time, whereas the cartoon series peddled in much softer “parody” territory. The movie seems to have borrowed a little bit from each direction, featuring clearly self-aware humor and even some dark moments, but also never becoming edgy enough to turn away child-audiences.
I first watched this film in the early 90s upon its release, and have only very recently re-visited the film for this review (and with the upcoming remake-boot looming). Nearly 25 years later, I was shocked at how well the movie holds up from a pure entertainment perspective. There is an intrinsic stupidity to the film that is almost impossible not to find appealing, with the added bonus of late 80s-early 90s nostalgia. The Hockey-loving vigilante character Casey Jones (played by Elias Koteas) is particularly amusing, not only as a throw-back to what kind of adult was considered “cool” to children of our generation, but because his character so clearly exists as a human romantic interest for female reporter April O’Neil (Lest generations of children grow up believing turtle-on-Yellow Raincoated Reporter sex is ok).
For a movie featuring swords, spears, knives, and other pointy objects, the violence in TMNT is very tame. There is basically no blood-letting at all, save for a scene near the end where the Shredder holds his arm as if cut. But that’s pretty much the full extent of it. It is simply a pleasure to watch the many ways fight choreographers worked around the PG rating. At the same time, the screenwriters clearly fought hard to squeeze in as many z-grade “curse” words like “hell” and “damn” as 90s censors would allow. It would have been far more satisfying to have this same concept explored with no regard to appealing to child audiences, but that is about as likely as my waking up in the morning on a mattress made of money.
This film continues the proud 80s Hollywood tradition of misunderstanding how street gangs work. In the world of 80s-early 90s cinema, children enter street gangs because they are mad at their overbearing parents who won’t let them do anything fun. The gang members all live in an abandoned warehouse filled with soda and video games. Shredder instead seems to make 100% of his income from petty theft perpetrated by his Ninjas. I can’t help but wonder how many pre-teens tried desperately to get initiated into a gang, only to discover that the rumors of Pepsi and Contra were grossly exaggerated. At no point is the Shredder seen explaining to his minions the finer aspects of dealing heroin.
Product placement has never before and rarely since been so crassly deployed upon the masses. Seemingly every shot in the film features a corporate logo of some kind. Now, I totally get that movies cost money, and sometimes an Apple symbol or Chevy Car on screen is necessary in order to secure financing. But when every aspect of the film has been bought and sold, it distracts from the story at hand (however tentative that story might be). It’s like bringing a baby to a theater, a bad idea in any case, but if you have to take one, it better not make noise.
I could split more hairs in this review, but considering the low lows future films would achieve, and the relative watchability of this entry, it feels only fair to give extra credit to this unqualified piece of entertainment, which remains goofy and fun almost a quarter century after its release.
Take a Drink: whenever Pizza is mentioned
Take a Drink: for each example of product placement
Drink a Shot: each time someone says “damn” in a vain effort at edginess