For a movie about a snail who dreams of winning the Indianapolis 500, Turbo isn’t quite strange enough to be brilliant.
Theo (Ryan Reynolds) is a snail who works with a crew harvesting a home garden in California. He spends his nights watching VHS tapes of his favorite Indy Car driver, Guy Gagne, whose catchphrase is “no dream is too big and no dreamer is too small.”
But being a snail who takes over twenty minutes to cross a room is a bit of an obstacle to Theo’s dream, as is his work in the garden, where dangers include ever-present crows and a toddler who likes smashing snails with his tricycle. And then there’s his brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti), who doesn’t believe in Theo’s dream at all.
Cue the requisite secret origin, as Theo gets caught inside a turbo-charged street racing car one night and gains super-speed. This gets Theo and Chet fired and, eventually, they’re captured by a taco-truck employee who plans to use the snails in the nightly snail races organized by others in the strip mall where the taco restaurant is located.
This is all fun to watch but it’s easy to see what pieces are going to fall into place even at the beginning of the story. I was somewhat surprised that the movie went for the literal interpretation of Theo/Turbo’s dream but the big race at the end turned out to be the highlight of the movie, gripping and intense, and drew cheers from the three pre-teens who accompanied me to the theater.
I imagine that ending race looks even better in 3D but we saw the 2D version.
Other good aspects included the crew of regular snails led by Samuel L. Jackson who refuse to let, well, being snails, stand in the way of living their dreams. They have one great sequence but I was hoping that they would be more of them.
I also loved the strip mall store owners, from the female mechanic to the old-school hobby store owner.
Still, the movie basically hit all the notes of the hero’s journey on the nose: the need to prove himself, the call to adventure, the mentorship, and, finally, the big test at the end. This is a story many viewers have seen before. It’s still entertaining, and has some nice touches, like the use of viral videos, and the diverse and entertaining voice cast. Giamatti in particular is great fun as Chet. Yet it falls short of greatness. The ending sequence definitely saves Turbo from being forgettable.
I’d recommend the movie more for younger children who will love the speed aspect of it all. (Who hasn’t dreamed of having super-speed?)
I hope the upcoming Netflix series will allow the snail crew to shine and I can’t help wondering if it will be weirder and more goofy fun than the movie.