“This is the future. The world as we know it is gone. Scarred by endless wars, humanity struggles to survive in the ruins of the old world. This is the future. The year is 1997.” It’s a great pitch, and for Turbo Kid (opening today), a winning one. Fuelled by Mad Max and countless dystopian eighties adventure movies, this low-budget tween actioner gets its kick from gleefully over-the-top gore and a winsome underdog hero story. So strap on your power-gloves, and let’s get back to the future.
Turbo Kid has the weird tics of a Canada/New Zealand coproduction with an oddball hybrid cast, but once you get past wondering why all these kiwis are running around “America,” it’s a lot of fun. Written and directed by Canadians François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoan-Karl Whissell, the trio has a clear hook on their goofball dystopian odyssey, plying the genre with plenty of retro love and a perfect synth soundtrack. Munro Chambers (Degrassi: The Next Generation) stars as The Kid, an orphan surviving on the fringes of a lost outpost somewhere or other, scavenging for food and cool eighties bric-a-brac. Water is the scarce commodity here, under the control of overlord Zeus, played with glowering camp villainy by Michael Ironside (so so many great and terrible movies). The Kid is taken hostage/befriended by Apple (Laurence Leboeuf, of 19-2, Being Erica, Durham County), a quirky girl who’s far too upbeat for someone lost in the dystopian wild. The two run afoul of Zeus’s marauders, and soon find themselves wrapped up in a power struggle between Zeus and Frederic (Aaron Jeffrey), the local Indiana Jones-alike.
The movie is littered with eighties film references, a pastiche that manages to stay just this side of too-cute as homage piles upon easter egg homage. The Kid adores a comic called Turbo Man, and longs to be a hero himself as he roves about the barrens on his BMX. Finding Turbo Man’s gloves (yes, Turbo Man is real, it turns out) sets him on the hero’s path, if he can ever master the tech problem that besets us all: piss-poor battery performance. Each character has a mystery from the past to solve, and their stories entwine in amusing, blood-spraying ways. The gore goes pretty far over the line, more Midnight Madness than Spy Kids, so it’s a movie best enjoyed by hipsters and blood-thirsty teens. Still, just like it’s titular hero, Turbo Kid‘s got heart. And that’s charge enough.