Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

I wouldn’t go as far to say that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is the most faithful movie adaptation of the cult comic-turned-pop culture juggernaut. But dammit to hell — it’s the funniest.

Co-written and produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, two Canadians who have become millionaires by making entertainment we can all enjoy while high, this Turtles installment doesn’t even try to take itself seriously. (It makes perfect sense that Rogen and Goldberg would do a Turtles movie, since the whole premise always seemed like something you and your friend would come up with while hella baked.) 

Along with director Jeff Rowe (who co-helmed the anarchic, satirical animated comedy The Mitchells vs. the Machines) and several other screenwriters, Rogen and Goldberg craft a more farcical take on Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s crime-fighting, sewer-dwelling reptiles from the Big Apple. For starters, just like a lot of New Yorkers, these turtles are some shit-talking, pop culture-savvy smart-asses. Watch as fearful leader Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), a bespectacled Donatello (Micah Abbey), an impulsive Raphael (Brady Noon), and the melon-headed Michelangelo (Shamon Brown, Jr.) bust each other’s balls — do turtles even have balls? — as they go from stealth scavengers to reluctant superheroes. They got their fighting styles from Bruce Lee movies and karate video tutorials provided by their human-hating “father” Splinter (Jackie Chan, but plays the wise rat more as a cranky, Jewish uncle). And the April O’Neil in this story is not a vivacious redhead or Megan Fox, but a nerdy teen of color (The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri) who hopes her story on the Turtles will make her classmates forget that time she lost her lunch during morning announcements. 

Mayhem has more in common with “N***a Turtles,” the R-rated, viral-video series where someone chopped up those first two, cheesy Turtles movies from the ‘90s and dubbed over the voices so everyone, including the Turtles, sounded like foul-mouthed hoodrats. While Mayhem doesn’t have its mind completely in the gutter (after all, the Turtles are voiced by actual teens), it does exhibit the same gonzo, anything-for-a-laugh attitude. It’s a movie where Ice Cube voices the main villain, mutant terrorist Superfly, and plays him not as a sinister beast but as a self-centered, wannabe thug. He also has a gang of familiar antagonists, voiced by Rogen and many of his cohorts (Paul Rudd, Rose Byrne, John Cena, Hannibal Buress). Since this is a Rogen/Goldberg production, I’m gonna assume ad-libbing was encouraged.

Much like the humor, the computer-generated animation is pleasantly crude. While the filmmakers have said they wanted the animation to have the same jagged, unfinished feel of doodles from a teenager’s notebook, Mayhem looks more like a Laika movie without the stop-motion animation. But that animation isn’t the only thing that’s proudly adolescent. After years of animated and live-action versions which usually characterized the turtles as brolic, roided-out goons (that’s one of the reasons I stayed away from the Michael Bay-produced reboots), Mayhem actually focuses on the fact that they’re teenagers, longing for a normal, teenage life. (Watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at an outdoor screening really makes them moony-eyed). 

Just like that other brilliant, animated movie about a teenage superhero that dropped this summer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a crafty, comical story about teenagers going through the usual teen stuff — trying to fit in, discovering who you are, etc. Unfortunately, all this happens while they also try to save a city that may not love them back. While this movie ends on an almost cloyingly positive note, it does leave the door open for a new installment and a new, more recognizable villain. As long as it’s just as ass-out funny as the last one, then let the mayhem continue.


“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is in theaters today.

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