It would seem someone’s mom was left to pick up what remained of some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as the screen door banged shut behind a trio of kids who biked down to the quarry on the edge of town, where through a shared vision fueled by Ho-Hos and Kool-Aid, they entered a wildly discordant, schizophrenically adorable, gore-soaked fantasy set in an deserted industrial wasteland. At least that’s the image inspired by Turbo Kid, the feature length debut by Montrealer writer-directors Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell (collectively known as RKSS), who need little more than an empty gravel pit, a well-stocked attic, and a couple trips to their nearest Play-It-Again Sports for their homage to 80’s-era post-apocalyptic action garbage.
In this world, high production value is turned on its head. The more useless junk you can spotlight, the better, and thanks to RKSS’s inspired decision to write the movie from the viewpoint of a kid at that age when this sort of stuff passes for groundbreaking entertainment, the nostalgia factor skyrockets, as does the earnestness with which they make their movie. Contextually speaking, the wasteland in Turbo Kid is a horrifying, desolate place patrolled by masked maniacs, but from the kid creator’s point of view, it’s awesome. Everyone rides bikes, everything is up for grabs, and it all takes place in a gravel pit just like the one you might sneak into in real life.
For the most part, RKSS’s pre-adolescent approach works well, picturing a gray Wild West broken up by swatches of blaring 80’s colors. Grown men bow-leggedly ride BMX bikes and the local good guy, renowned for his arm-wrestling prowess, delivers a speech on the sanctity of his personal bubble. It’s survival as imagined by a suburban nine year-old, with the black-and-white morality of a wannabe hero and the cartoonish ultraviolence of consequence-free daydreams.
The eponymous Kid is a lone scavenger, blessed with nervy awkwardness by Degrassi regular Monro Chambers. Harboring an obsession for the legendary Turbo Rider, a hero immortalized in comic books and action figure form, he’s pressured into growing up and becoming a hero himself when his new friend is captured by the warlord Zeus (Michael Ironside) and he stumbles across Turbo Rider’s specially equipped suit, ripe for the scavenging. With help from the arm-wrestling white hat, he just might stand a chance against the gang of hockey helmeted psychos, led by Zeus’s twitchy, circular saw-wielding lieutenant Skeletron.
The captured friend is Apple (Laurence LaBoeuf), an inhumanely clingy and upbeat girl who drops in on the Kid one day and never leaves. For all the inventively comic mayhem and 80’s affectations, Turbo Kid rides highest on the budding friendship between the irrepressible Apple and the reluctant Kid. LaBoeuf takes to the role with gusto and never lets up, and chances are if you aren’t instantly repelled by her bubbliness, you’re pissed that the Kid isn’t as immediately protective of her as you are. It takes commitment of the highest order to upstage Ironside’s scenery chewing, and LaBoeuf accomplishes it without ever feeling like she’s stealing scenes.
Likewise, the masked Edwin Wright turns Skeletron into the decade’s most memorable henchman, turning in a performance like a tweaked-out feral cat chasing a laser over a lasagna dinner. RKSS wisely utilize him as much as possible as the evil yin to Apple’s yang. Expect these to be the most common cosplay options in conventions to come.
The charm of RKSS’s principled immaturity does have its limits, however. As their first foray into feature length moviemaking, Turbo Kid suffers from a terribly clunky plot. The pieces are all in place, its trajectory is fairly predictable, but scenes just sort of bump into each other, like the directors only have two hands and have to drop one character to pick up another to play with. The stilted effect even infects their fight sequences, which happen the old fashioned way, one thug rushing at a time. It does a disservice to the driving synth score by Le Matos, who in a way overcompensate with repetitive beats that keeps the soundtrack moving even when things onscreen aren’t. The gore as well, goofy as it’s supposed to be, crosses the line into eye-rolling territory on occasion, a minor slip up where the filmmakers forget they’re looking in a mirror and giggle a little too loudly at their own cleverness.
Still, for a three-person collaboration, Turbo Kid maintains a solid vision, and there’s something to be said for all movie makers who can find the inspiration to assemble something so uniquely enjoyable and instantly iconic from decades-old pop culture detritus. It may not be perfect, but it more than gets by on the Kid and Apple’s scenes alone. Add in the other nutso, hilarious touches, and you have the garnish you need to turn your sweet tale of friendship into a Friday night blood feast. Look at it this way: if it were better developed than this, they would’ve called it Turbo Rider, and it wouldn’t have been half as fun.