Long ago, in the closing decades of the 20th century, there was a children’s cartoon, based on a comic book, called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” in which a quartet of grotesque reptilian vigilantes lived in a sewer and fought criminals under the direction of a wise rat. There were a few live-action movies based on these characters, all of them (the movies) rancid.
Then, many years later, the people who were children back then had grown up to be in charge of making movies now, and they said, “We should make a new ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.'” And everyone who belonged to their generation said “Yes!” while everyone who was 10 years older or 10 years younger said “Ugh.”
The ughs have it. The new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is faithful to its predecessors in that it is loud, dumb, and aimed at 11-year-olds (and not the smart ones, either). Directed by Jonathan Liebesman (“Battle: Los Angeles,” “Wrath of the Titans”) with one or two bursts of energetic fun, this soulless franchise reboot stars game-but-inept Megan Fox as April O’Neil, the New York City TV reporter who becomes the Turtles’ confidante when they start enigmatically thwarting crime, Batman-style, in the dead of night. Her horny, befuddled colleague, Vernon, is played by Will Arnett, who seems like he’s making fun of the material rather than performing it (and who seems creepy hitting on Megan Fox).
The Turtles themselves are basically interchangeable. One of them wears glasses and is presumably the nerd, and one of them has Johnny Knoxville’s voice, but you could assign most of their dialogue to any of them at random without changing anything. They’re all super-stoked teenage dudes who are always glib yet never funny, more like braying donkeys than turtles.
It’s one of those movies where everything in the plot is connected unnecessarily. The Turtles were mutated in a lab by a scientist, who turns out to be April O’Neil’s dead father, who worked with the guy who’s now the villain, and so forth. The villain is played by William Fichtner (that’s how you know he’s the villain), who’s often the most entertaining part of a bad movie but is disappointingly tame here. He needs the Turtles’ blood to make a drug that figures into his cockamamie scheme to get richer by poisoning the city or something. There’s also a villain called Shredder who is a samurai in a robot costume.
Product placement includes Skype, Pizza Hut, and Victoria’s Secret, I kid you not. And Whoopi Goldberg shows up for like two seconds as April’s boss, leaving the distinct impression that other scenes were cut.
For a movie about wise-cracking humanoid turtles, this one sure takes itself seriously. It gets bogged down in the mechanics of its simple-minded plot, at the expense of things like characterization and wit. We also spend far more time with April than we need to; for a while, the title characters feel like supporting roles. You wouldn’t think a lack of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would be a problem in a movie called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” but there you go. On the other hand, when they are on the screen they’re obnoxious, so maybe it’s for the best. One of them, or possibly all four of them, has a crush on April, and says upon meeting her, “She’s so hot I can feel my shell tightening.” So now you can think about sexually aroused turtles (YOU’RE WELCOME).
C- (1 hr., 41 min.; )