Turbo is a DreamWorks animation film that borrows liberally from Toy Story, Cars and other Pixar movies and even a few DreamWorks releases, like Shark Tale and Kung Fu Panda. Because the story’s short on originality, Turbo never achieves the adrenaline or the octane it strives for. In some ways, it’s like its central character before he’s juiced up by a freak accident.
Theo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) is a snail who longs to race despite the fact that he’s no faster than any other shelled mollusk. Unlike his brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) who’s perfectly content to forage off of garden tomatoes, Theo, who dubs himself “Turbo,” wants a less humdrum existence. Because while racing may be dangerous, crows happily feed off Chet and Theo’s more cautious neighbors.
Theo accidentally gets to fulfill his need for speed when he falls into a racing vehicle and gets a bath of nitrous oxide. At that point, he finds himself achieving speed and distances no snail has ever reached. He also becomes a pet for a taco vendor named Tito (Michael Pena), who wants to get the speedy little creature into Indy. Theo even gets an endorsement from his idol, veteran racer Guy Gagne (Bill Hader, with a delightfully cheesy Quebecois accent).
The buildup to the inevitable big race is a lot more fun than the climax itself.
Tito’s attempts to draw more attention to his brother Angelo’s (Luis Guzman) tasty cuisine have previously ended in disaster (monkeys and tacos are a bad combination). Believe it or not, it’s more fun to see how a snail’s routine can be crushingly repetitive as a human’s, even if the scale is a little different. In their world, tomatoes are nourishing and potentially lethal.
The lead characters, even the whiny Chet, are appealing. Giamatti gives the understandably nervous Chet his all and makes a stock character seem real and even alive. Sadly, the supporting cast is loaded with fleeting, forgettable types who don’t make much of an impression despite being played by notables like Richard Jenkins and Maya Rudolph. Perhaps viewers should be offered discounts if they can spot Rudolph’s or Jenkins’ voices without the closing credits.
Samuel L. Jackson’s distinctively commanding baritone can be heard coming from a snail’s mouth, but there isn’t anything else that’s unique about the character other than he sounds like he’s upset about snakes on his plane.
While the outcome of the final competition is preordained, it may have been more entertaining if the race were a little more dynamic. Auto racing detractors complain that watching cars roaring down a track for hours can be about as exciting watching someone mowing a lawn and a tad more monotonous.
Great races, real and fictitious, become exciting when the outcome is uncertain or if intimidating obstacles make the conclusion of the competition less obvious. Because Stephen Boyd could kill Charlton Heston by ramming the spiked wheels into his chariot, the race in Ben Hur retains some drama no matter how often you see it.
I feel bad for this plucky snail, but his movie is not ready to run on the same track as Monsters University and Despicable Me 2.
Turbo 75 Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Jenkins, Luis Guzman, Bill Hader Maya Rudolph, Michelle Rodri guez, Snoop Dogg Director: David Soren Rating: PG, for some mild action and thematic elements Running time: 96 minutes