The cliché nowadays is not showing a film’s title characters until the better half of its second act. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues that trend by focusing more on April O’Neil (Megan Fox, “Passion Play”), a good-looking New York reporter reduced to covering fluff pieces. Eager for a break that’d set her apart from her peers, she pursues an investigation into a criminal organization known as the Foot Clan, spearheaded by the ruthless Shredder (Tohoru Masamune, “Inception”). While every news outlet covers the Foot Clan’s reign of intimidation and violence, only O’Neil discovers the four vigilantes who’ve been fighting back against them: Leonardo (motion-captured by Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville, “Bad Grandpa”), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2”), Donatello (Jeremy Howard, “The Pretty One”), and Raphael (Alan Ritchson, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”). She just didn’t expect them to be talking turtles who like pizza and marital arts, and were trained by their equally mutated — albeit enlightened — rat master, Splinter (motion-captured by Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub, “Pain & Gain”).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could’ve been a lot of things, but boring? The script, written by Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec and Evan Daugherty, is a clusterfuck of pop culture references, product placement, and monologues outlining every plot point before it actually happens; the latter of which is the only thing connecting this reboot to its ’80’s roots. The turtles themselves, once conceived by comic writers Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman as a parody of Marvel superheroes, only have a fraction of their distinct personalities. Raphael may still be somewhat rebellious, and Leonardo maintains his discipline over the clan, but most of the film would rather have Will Arnett’s character, a clueless cameraman, making stupid passes at O’Neil.
While Jonathan Liebesman is credited as the film’s director, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is very much a Michael Bay production. As chief financier, Bay makes sure to include his take on buildings toppling over and trucks exploding. Unsurprisingly, the special effects are serviceable. The turtles themselves take some getting used to — with their weird nostrils and whatnot — but aren’t that compelling either. Of course, Bay, being the chauvinist he is, makes Fox another tchotchke to fawn over. She too looks good and is completely forgettable (as she is in most of her parts). Nothing really has the resonance of Splinter’s black, beady eyes; they look devoid and helpless — much like this rebooted franchise has become before it has really started.