I guess the gag is that the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feature gets away from the campy, silly Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of the '80s TV series and back to the vengeful, brooding, psychotic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Really, some comic-ologist once told me the original Kevin Eastman/Peter Laird turtle comics could get pretty violent and ruminate seriously on elements of bushido and honor. Okayyyy... This all-CGI revival TMNT isn't exactly The Dark Terrapins Return, but pretentious panelists at the next DweebCon '07 (if they could shut up about Spider-Man and Venom for a second) will talk about how September 11 everything's-different-now malaise colors even this nerdcore superhero franchise.
"This place used to be fun," says Michelangelo, of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle headquarters in the sewers of NYC, now pretty vacant (but resplendent with 20-year-old arcade videogame sounds), since the four, crimefighting man-sized irradiated turtle brothers lost their team spirit. One is a loner Batman-style vigilante, another does phone computer tech support; another dresses up as a faux Mutant Ninja Turtle for kids' parties (which is funny). The quartet uneasily reunite in time to face a fresh menace, an ancient immortal warlord, now a Manhattan tycoon called Winters (voiced by Patrick Stewart) with a gang of accursed stone automatons, ninja mercenaries, and 13 monsters unleashed by a rare planetary alignment - such alignments as happen every few days in lame fantasies.
`Venus,' once introduced as the only female Mutant Ninja Turtle (I hate myself that I know this) isn't here this time. Digital-rendered Splinter the Rat looks and talks more like an old Jewish fox, or maybe that Cinemark chain mascot Front Row Joe. He's voiced by late Japanese-American actor Mako (to whom the thing is dedicated), and Sarah Michelle Gellar and Zhang Ziyi also do speaking chores. A vocal cameo by Kevin Smith is, well, `apropos' is the kind word.
New Line's Cinema's first live-action 1990 Turtle romp won kudos for Jim Henson's Creature Shop in creating serviceable rubberized animatrons. This 2007 tech leap into digital nothingness looks like a transition straight to the X-Box/Playstation marketplace, with creatures glimpsed only enough to get brand recognition and no joysticks for audience consolation. Remarkably, it's almost possible to care when Raphael turns on Leonardo (never mind the only physical difference between turtles is the color of their bandanas), makingTMNT worthier than, say, the next Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh! crap, but that's small praise. Judging by the finale and New York imagery, a CGI Ghostbusters from Far East silicon sweatshops isn't far off. Maybe next planetary alignment.