Turbo Kid is out now on Shudder, and if it’s up your alley, you’ve probably already seen it.
This post -apocalyptic comedy has touches of the western and the super hero film, but it mostly looks and feels like Mad Max directed by hipsters. It takes place in a futuristic 1997 that is playful and bleak. There’s no water, the land is dried up, the color palette is desaturated, and every character literally rides bikes. The main villain looks exactly like Dennis Hopper in Waterworld and his cronies are dressed like the casting director rounded up 30 of the rawest dudes from Burning Man and told them to scowl. This is a compliment. If there’s something about the film that really works, it’s the lo-fi costume design.
Everything in Turbo Kid is either super sincere or totally overblown. The lead says lines like “prepare to taste a turbo charge… of justice… in the face.” There’s a sort of self-aware, ironic, playfulness to the tone of the whole film. When the badass cowboy character hops on a bike for the first time, it’s like some kind of version of the horse thing from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. But the problem is, I just didn’t find it all that funny and it doesn’t fully commit to being absurd.
The central relationship is between two Gen-Xers that act like Millennials. Their dynamic calls to mind Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, insofar as it’s a nerdy dude who is in over his head, fighting evil and saving the girl. But the film attempts to lean into its own sincerity and this, for me, is what doesn’t work. Instead of being a balls-to-the-wall pastiche-comedy, like Danger 5, it tries to pull off being sincere and funny, and falls short of both. It tonally oscillates between something like Swiss Army Man and Dead Alive.
Did I mention this film is occasionally in full-on, ultraviolent overdrive? Its sincerity is juxtaposed with super over-the-top sequences of dismemberment, disembowelment, decapitation, and impalement. This might put some people off, but for me, the movie gets to prove its imaginative worth in these scenes. The violence is totally indulgent and laughable, like the knight scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail or anything in Planet Terror.
Turbo Kid ends up being intentionally uneven, like someone repurposed Mad Max as a Troma film with a heart. Why? Honestly, they should have just kicked ass and took names. But if they were really married to the love story, it should have been more compelling. After all, he’s in love with a robot and they’re both kind of annoying.
Still, I will admit that visually Turbo Kid works. And at $60,000, it’s kind of amazing. The design of the gore sequences is fun, and the prosthetic makeup is very 80s. Same with the wide shots, which look like old-school matte-paintings, but I suspect they are computer generated. The film feels visually authentic, but the love story flops and it’s not funny enough, clever enough, or consistently absurd enough for me to recommend it to anyone but its super specified target audience.
Turbo Kid is available to stream now on Shudder.