It’s the post-apocalyptic future (1997), and the few remaining humans scrabble through the rubble of the great Robot War for vestiges of civilization (such as Rubik’s Cubes, comic books and plastic pink flamingoes). The water has been poisoned, with only evil, one-eyed warlord Zeus (genre legend Michael Ironside) doling out meager drops to the few who remain, his despotic rule propped up by the requisite hockey-padded henchmen, including the awesomely-named Skeletron, who sports a super-cool metal skull mask and a circular saw blade-firing gauntlet. Oh, and everyone rides BMX bikes almost exclusively for some reason, none more proudly than teen rebel bike-rider of the wasteland, Turbo Kid.
That’s “Turbo Kid” for you, the new, low-budget Canadian feature from a rare writer-director triumvirate (François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell), which screens on Sept. 2 at SPACE Gallery. SPACE’s Jon Courtney claims that there was a groundswell of support for him to bring in this Sundance Festival entry to town, so, well done, weirdoes of Portland. “Turbo Kid” should give you just the sort of gory, post-apocalyptic comedy thrills you’re looking for – especially if you’re a fan of early Peter Jackson movies like “Bad Taste” or “Dead Alive,” Troma flicks like “The Toxic Avenger,” or any number of the schlock exploitation films this Canadian trio reference at every opportunity.
“Turbo Kid,” overflowing with goofy dialogue, over the top viscera, and homages galore as it is, isn’t straight-up parody. In fact, its tone is tough to pin down, which robs it of some of the sleazy charge exploitation fans are no doubt expecting. When our teenaged hero (“Degrassi” heartthrob Munro Chambers, who looks like Ryan Reynolds’ blander kid brother) finds a crashed rocket and dons a dead soldier’s garb that looks suspiciously like a Power Ranger crossed with the Nintendo Power Glove, and starts immediately vaporizing bad guys into goopy messes, the movie should take off. But its unwillingness to commit to being either a good-bad movie or a so-bad-it’s-good movie (like something you’d see parodied on “Mystery Science Theater 3000”) leaves “Turbo Kid” betwixt and between genres, and the world it does build isn’t really distinctive enough to sustain its 90-minute running time. Something so loopy shouldn’t be this nondescript.
That being said, there’s a decent amount of fun to be had here, especially if you’re conversant with the frequently silly post-apocalyptic genre. Ironside is a hammy hoot as always, grinning those sharky chompers of his when he’s not using them to chew the sparse scenery to smithereens. (Post-apocalypses favor warehouses and gravel pits.) As Turbo Kid’s sidekick/possible girlfriend Apple, Laurence Laboeuf is possessed of spooky pale blue eyes, a crazy smile, and a bottomless enthusiasm that is both completely endearing and the source of a big plot twist. There’s a gravelly cool guy who’s Australian for no reason than that this is “Mad Max” territory. The music is a perfect approximation of 1980s synth action scores at their worst/most awesome. And the gore, while copious, is played for gross-out laughs—although not as wittily as Jackson’s was before the “Lord Of The Rings” and “Hobbit” movies made him go semi-respectable. And genre fans should bring a scorecard and play “spot the reference bingo”—in addition to Jackson’s films and the “Mad Max” universe, I spotted callbacks to “Hardware,” “Solarbabies,” “Tank Girl,” “Rad,” “BMX Bandits,” “Evil Dead 2,” and more. (I challenge you, horror geeks of Portland!)
So come on out to SPACE, Portland cult movie fans – if “Turbo Kid” isn’t all it could be, it’s still a strange, fun ride. On a BMX bike. With a laser glove.
WHERE: SPACE Gallery, Portland
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 2
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $8, $6 for SPACE members and students with ID.
NOTE: The film contains a lot of gore (comic though it is), so be advised.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
SPACE Gallery, Portland (space538.org)
Friday: “Best of Enemies.” This documentary recounts the unlikely, ever-combative pairing of noted conservative William F. Buckley Jr. and left-wing novelist Gore Vidal as they waged a dizzying ideological war of words on ABC News in the summer of 1968.
Films in Congress Square Park, Portland (congresssquarepark.org/events)
Sunday: “Annie Hall.” The ongoing outdoor film series continues with a showing of Woody Allen’s still-wonderful romantic comedy.