By Blake Z. Rong and Mark Z. Vaughn, Crain News Service
DETROIT (July 12, 2013) — Associate Editor Blake Z. Rong: "Where were you when a snail entered the Indy 500?"
It's a simple premise, really. "Turbo" is the heartwarming story of a talking snail (Ryan Reynolds) who's obsessed with IndyCar racing.
After traveling to the 101 Freeway in California and falling into the LA River, he finds himself sucked into the engine of a supercharged Camaro. After being injected with nitrous oxide, he gains superpowers and is discovered by a rotund taco stand chef—whose phony glasses bear him more than a passing resemblance to Russell from the 2009 animated flick "Up"—with a penchant for after-hours snail racing, where the eponymous Turbo meets a ragtag crew of "tricked-out" (press release phrasing, not ours) fellow racing snails led by Samuel L. Jackson.
Then, they enter the snail into the Indianapolis 500, a premise less farfetched than Kevin Cogan's 1982 crash that took out A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti before the green flag even dropped.
Is there a montage to the 1992 House of Pain hip-hop classic "Jump Around"? Of course there is. Does Snoop Dogg say "Indy-dizzle-wizzy"?
You're damn right he does. Does the CEO of IndyCar drive a Chevrolet Traverse? Only if GM says he does. Director David Soren treats this as a love letter to IndyCar (and Verizon product placement), and he loves it so much that he wants all his bestest friends in the world! to share his enthusiasm, if not his affinity for Judas Priest albums.
Enthusiastic this animated movie is: The racing scenes are sufficiently dramatic, the race cars themselves are rendered accurately, and the people themselves look creepy enough to make "The Croods" resemble Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday."
By the end of the movie, you'll root for Turbo in a way that will make up for all those times you had French Laundry's Fricassée of Escargot with sweet carrot and roasted shallot purée. (What, you never had? Not even once? Well, uh, me neither.) Still, the willing suspension of disbelief asks a lot from the fully formed humans in the audience—it's not a movie filled with automotive in-jokes that human IndyCar dorks will fawn over, like "Cars." Though Mr. L. Jackson does steal the show as he always does, pulling off a kid-friendly rendition of a certain dialogue from "Pulp Fiction" that you'll just have to see to understand.
And the kids will love it. (We ran into numerous gaggles of screaming youths after the screening, all of whom were breathless and running across the parking garage, hollering, "It was AWESOME!") And love it they will: If an animated snail is the only way to get America's Future into IndyCar racing, then we applaud Mr. Soren's efforts.
But why stop there? There's a world of animal/motorsports tie-ups just waiting to be lashed together. How about the uplifting story of a Kodiak bear who finds his talent behind GMG Racing's Pirelli World Challenge Audi R8?
Or a sequel to "Air Bud" where the eponymous Golden Retriever nurses dreams of entering the 24 Hours of Nürburgring? (He's house-trained but not race-car-trained, to the chagrin of the team's crew chief who's played by Tim Allen.)
Or, a North Atlantic flatfish who dreams of someday entering the Baja 1000. The tagline, of course, will be "He's a fish out of water!" Can a demersal fish survive the grueling desert, equipped with only his tricked-out, chrome-laden, neon-lighted, off-road fish tank and a plucky, can-do spirit? This scale-less friend will find out. The movie title? "Turbot."
I hear Ryan Gosling's available. Have his people call my people.
West Coast Editor Mark Vaughn: Plausibility is rarely necessary in a good movie, especially if it's aimed at kids. But a good movie should make you forget your doubts right away, accept the whole premise and get sucked into the plot for the next couple of hours.
In the case of "Turbo," the 3D animated Dreamworks movie about a snail who enters the Indy 500, I could never stop saying, "But wait, assuming he did get super powers from being accidentally nitrous-oxided through a big block, why does he still need Chap Stick applied to his snail tracker to get grip around the race track?" Things like that.
Yes, I am that guy in "The Jerk" yelling after Steve Martin saying, "Hey! He's not carnival personnel!"
Despite trying valiantly throughout its hour and a half or so running time, I could never get swept along in the mayhem. That is not to say I didn't—and you won't—enjoy the movie. I did, you will. Almost every character here is solid and believable, from the two brothers who co-own a Van Nuys strip mall taco shop to the mustachioed IndyCar CEO to the yellow-jacketed security guys at the Indy 500.
It's the characters who salvage the movie and make its continuous implausibility bearable. My—and possibly your—favorite character of the many here was the gregarious villain Guy Gagne, the fastest driver in Indy Car, who is so media savvy that he directs the news cameras in detail during his own interviews. Guy has inspired the snail Theo (aka Turbo), who watches IndyCar race tapes in the garage of the house in whose bushes he lives (again, suspend your doubts!). The interaction of the humans who run the failing strip mall businesses next to Dos Bros Tacos are recognizable from your life—the bros were in most of my junior high classes.
The race scenes are remarkably well done, considering most are shot from the point of view of a 200-mph snail. IndyCar fans will enjoy every one of these—right down to the slippery traction of the "marbles" outside the racing line.
The movie seems to draw from "Cars" and some of the "Fast & Furious" franchise in its racing detail—the whole scene of Turbo passing through the engine looks very similar to a scene in an early "F&F" film, as does the muscle car doing a wheelie in a street race. The corner strip mall where Dos Bros Tacos eke out a meager existence is a smaller, tackier Radiator Springs. So what?
Like "Cars 2," it's the details that save Turbo. It will likely be a big hit among the critical 4-11-year-old demographic, who will see it several times in theaters and on DVD, and who will buy all the tie-in gear. Any parents or grandparents who take the 4-11-year-olds to see "Turbo" will like it, too, especially if they're IndyCar fans.The Turbo ticker
On Sale: July 17
Base Price: $11 (matinee); $18 (Arclight)
Drivetrain: Character-driven animation, strong players, subtle facial expressions, highly implausible premise
0-Credits: Rolls right along
Fuel Economy: 30 to 40 laughs per hour
Options: Popcorn ($6-13, depending on size); Sour Patch Kids ($5.50); 3D glasses (free)
This report appeared on the website of Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.