In a post-apocalyptic 1997, a kid becomes an action hero and challenges a local gang of post-apocalyptic bikers. Coming soon, to a wasteland near you.
Quietly, 80s nostalgia became a big thing. The first signs might have come in 2011 with the publication of Ready Player One (2011), by Ernest Cline. A very successful science fiction novel and popular among a younger crowd. The book is totally based on references to movies and computer games from the 80s. This year, we of course got Pixels (2015), which was Adam Sandler’s horrible effort to hitch a ride on the nostalgia wave, all the way to the bank.
Also, Ready Player One (2017) is going to get a screen adaptation by no one other than Steven Spielberg. It can’t be the genius of the book’s plot because it is a rather crappy book (I’ve read it). Spielberg must be taken himself by the 80s references from when he was younger. And he himself made some of those movies that today’s entertainment refers to. The 80s nostalgia craze reached a most extreme plateau in Kung Fury (2015), a short movie released on youtube. Kung Fury upped the ante by using VHS-like bad quality and artificial glitches, and extreme humor. Now that Kung Fury is over and done, we can relax a bit, because nothing will get crazier than that.
And now we have the next item: Turbo Kid (2015) a Canadian/Kiwi film. It is best described as a child from both Kung Fury and Mad Max: Fury Road. Make of that what you will. It opens with the same artificial VHS “quality” and electronic music as Kung Fury, but the characters are like 80s Mad Max figures.
Turbo Kid is very ehh… meta. It is a film that pretends to be filmed in the 80s, but is set in the post-apocalyptic world of 1997. This future world is depicted as filmmakers from the 80s would have done. In other words, a bit like the early Mad Max movies. Like Mad Max: Fury Road, Turbo Kid is like a remake of Mad Max from the 80s, but pretending it is still the 80s.
It takes a special kind of humor to appreciate this. There are no real jokes in the movie; instead, the whole thing is like a big in-joke that is only funny if you’re “in”. Kung Fury also depended on this in-joke.
Turbo Kid is conflicting in its quality. First the good stuff. The introductions of the characters are all very well done. In a series of funny sketches, we quickly meet a growling cowboy, a bad guy named Zeus and an overly attached psycho girlfriend named Apple who never stops grinning. 15 minutes into the movie I am really delighted by its playfulness. In one of the first scenes, the Kid walks into a bar/headquarters which reminded me of the Mos Eisley cantina scene in Star Wars (1977).
The strange thing is that the references on which Turbo Kid depends, also make the film feel very derivative. For example, we have a bad guy with a similar mask as Immortan Joe’s from Fury Road. This feeling of “we have seen this before” and knowing that the movie does this on purpose is a bit nagging, because it feels a bit cheap. The kind of movie you end up with is not something that stands on its own. The whole concept is original but the parts are all heavily borrowed from earlier movies. Even knowing that you’re supposed to recognize these references for the sake of humor, it still makes the movie feel like a throw-away effort.
On the whole, the movie is entertaining but lacks a certain weight and scale. Sometimes this is played for laughs, such as when a Mad Max like chase sets in, only with bicycles instead of motorcycles. But the low budget is very noticeable. The cast and supporting cast are very small, as if a small group of people set out to make a film in their own backyards. Also, a weird thing is the combination of a desexualized and simplified kid’s plot and excessive blood and gore. Adults can laugh about great fountains of blood and at the same time be bored by the predictable plot. It’s a mixed bag, but if you like playful science fiction and 80s nostalgia, try it out.