Netflix has a lot of hidden gems if you have the time and the boredom levels to go looking for them, and among these gems is Turbo Kid, an odd mash of 80’s nostalgia, coming-of-age tropes, post-apocalyptic humor… and also Michael Ironside. With an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 60% on Metacritic, Turbo Kid is far from a perfect movie, but it is fun and memorable, and free -assuming you are stealing your Netflix account from a friend, which we know about 45% of you are doing. We don’t want to put too fine of a point on this, so let’s just say that this movie is weird… but weird in a good way. It also has points where it makes surprisingly relevant and meta-commentary on our culture and our entertainment industry.
The Distant Distant Future
Set in the way far-off future of 1997, the story revolves around “The Kid.” An orphan whose parents were killed and now lives alone in a very post-apocalyptic Canada. It’s like Mad Max with trees instead of desert, and bicycles instead of flame-spewing-hot-rod-monster-trucks. The Kid is fascinated with a comic book called Turbo Rider, who may or may not have been an actual person that actually fought robots before the world ended. The wasteland is ruled by two different factions, the free city ruled by Fredrick the Arm-Wrestling New Zealand Cowboy and Zeus, your typical apocalyptic warlord who controls the water and an army of over-the-top henchmen with ridiculously impractical weapons. Everything changes for the The Kid when he meets Apple, a strange girl who he initially distrusts but comes to etc, etc, etc… We won’t spoil any of the movie, but you can already see where all of this is going.
The plot progression is not surprising, but it’s not necessarily the story that is the most interesting part of Turbo Kid. It’s the movie’s imaginative setting, quirky characters, and absurd humor that really helps propel this Sundance Indie film into something altogether different. There are more than a few clever nods and winks to 80’s culture and video games. More than anything, it is a movie that delivers action and heart, and yet does not to take itself too seriously. The cliches are plentiful and to many that would seem like a bad thing, but Turbo Kid does its best to steer into them while acknowledging their purpose in the greater theme of the movie.
Rated PG for Over the Top Violence
Turbo Kid is not so much a modern movie about a devastated world, as it is a 1980’s movie about a devastated world. Even the cause of the devastation is stated as: acid rain, which isn’t something you hear a lot about anymore. This movie may have been released in 2015, but it goes to painstaking lengths to feel like something you would find on an old VHS at the back of a Blockbuster in 1986. It’s plot does not try to be clever or do anything new, and instead follows the very typical formula you would expect from an adolescent-action-fantasy movie from that era. However, Turbo Kid is different in the fact that it uses more buckets of practical-effects-blood and guts than the first Friday the 13th film. It can be a bit startling, since it contrasts harshly with the movie’s light 80’s nostalgia feel, but that might be the point.
It is at least a shallow commentary on the acceptability of violence in movies marketed toward kids. Everything else about this movie seems to imply that it would have been rated PG, had it been released in theaters during the Regen era, except for the gore. It is unnecessary, extreme, and treated completely casually by the characters in the movie. Sawed off torsos and geysers of blood are seen as normal in the world of Turbo Kid, and that is equal parts disturbing and morbidly hilarious. We could also bring up that life in any post-apocalypse would probably desensitize the denizens of that world, but we won’t. We could also mention that the colorful outlook of Apple and The Kid are a depressing dichotomy to the bleakness of the world they inhabit, but we won’t. We could also say that Turbo Kid is a comment on nostalgia-media in general, and is therefore an overly sentimentalized metaphor for how we -as adults- look back on our childhood, which was surrounded by dangers, disasters, and external threats we were only barely able to comprehend… but we won’t do that either.
Unfortunately, as much as we admire what the movie does and the commentary it attempts to make we hesitate to draw any real deeper meaning from it, without stretching the bounds of credulity. Still, it is fun, sweet, and worth a watch. Are you going to walk away from Turbo Kid with some new or great understanding about yourself and the life around you? No, but you will walk away smiling.
Some may see this film as just another attempt to cash in on the nostalgia-media that has grown so rampant over the past decade, but we actually see it as a entertaining niche movie with a genuine love for a time when life was simpler and maybe when action-adventure-fantasy movies were a little more desensitized to what they promoted to children. Turbo Kid has won multiple awards, including a 2016 Saturn Award for Best International Film, and it is well-deserving of the accolades.
So, if you have a couple hours to kill, switch on Netflix, or just go to their website, and stream it now. You won’t be sorry.