Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Recent Watches: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)

Turtle-Mania peaked somewhere in the early nineties, with the cartoon soaring in the ratings, the toys flying off the shelves, and the Turtles’ faces slapped on every sort of merchandise imaginable, from backpacks to green slime filled dessert cakes. The first theatrical film fed off that excitement, being so successful that it was, for a time, the highest grossing independent film ever made. A sequel had to be made. And fast. Nearly exactly a year after the release of the original, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze” ninja-chopped its way into theaters.

The film is a direct sequel, picking up days after the first. The Ninja Teens are still running high on their victory over the Shredder, despite Splinter’s insistence that they stay focused on their studies. (And April’s hope that they move out of her apartment.) Shredder isn’t dead though, somehow having survived a seven-story drop into the back of a garbage truck. With an even more fucked-up face, Shredder pulls together the remains of the Foot Clan in order to exact revenge on the Turtles. That revenge takes the form of the radioactive ooze that birthed the Turtles in the first place. The bad guys steal the last of the ooze in order to create two more warrior mutants, the brutish but child-like Tokka and Rahzar. The same ooze leads the TMNT to understand their past more fully.

One of the things I admire about the original “Turtles” film is how deftly it balanced the goofiness of the popular cartoon show with the grittiness of the original comics. “Secret of the Ooze” has no such interest in balance. In the first film, the Turtles smash a light before attacking their foes, in order to avoid detection. In the opening minutes of this film, the team steps out in bright light, in full view of a normal human, dispatching their enemies with slapstick comedy. So much for the Art of Invisibility. In that first scene alone, Mikey fights off opponents with a yo-yo and sausage links. Meanwhile, Donnie pretends to be an inflatable clown and whacks a guy with a foam bat. That dire silliness infects the entire production. While attempting to grab the last of the mutagen away from the Foot Clan, the Turtles enact a casual game of football, surfing on office chairs. Previously, the Foot Clan was a serious threat and beat Raph nearly to death. This time, they’re a complete joke, not a single one putting up a decent fight. Tokka and Rahzar aren’t much of a threat either. Their childish minds make them easy to outsmart. The worst thing they do is knock down some telephone poles and flip a car. Even that scene is undermined by a pair of wise-cracking old people.

“The Secret of the Ooze” was rushed into production and that shows in its ramshackle plot. There are elements of the screenplay that works. The origin behind the mutagen, an accidental mixture of industrial chemicals, is satisfying. David Warner’s Professor Perry is a decent addition to the Turtle-verse. He actually advances the plot while having a personality. However, most of the plot seems thrown together. Shredder surviving his fate in the first film seems unlikely. The Turtles searching for a new home is a decent story turn but stumbling upon the abandoned train station is awfully convenient. The movie introduces a new character in the form of kung-fu pizza boy Keno. Keno, as played by an overly earnest Ernie Reyes Jr., is more annoying then endearing. He floats in and out of the film, disappearing for long stretches. Mostly, he exists to help Raph infiltrate the Foot, which promptly gets the Turtle captured. The heroes escape that trap too easily, Splinter randomly showing up to save the day, before willingly walking back into the Shredder’s lair. The gladiatorial combat between the Ninja Teens and Tokka and Rahzar is never delivered on. Every time it looks like the fight is about to click in, the movie is sidelined by slapstick ridiculousness.

The biggest indignity of all faces the Turtles in the last act. The Foot’s junkyard base is apparently located next to a hip-hop dance club, an unlikely proposition. The fight tumbles into the club where Vanilla Ice, that signifier of early nineties schlock, is performing. The patrons don’t flee from the fighting terrapins. Instead, the funky white boy improvises a rap about them and the club plays along. Tokka and Rahzar are easily defeated, as the Professor pulls a plot resolution out of his ass via some fire extinguishers. Despite the movie around him being a goofball comedy, the Shredder remained a serious villain. He grabs a female dancer and threatens to slash her throat, proving once again how ruthless guy he is. The Turtles’ response? Michelangelo performs a bitchin' keytar solo which causes a giant speaker to explode, launching the villain through a window and into the equally improbable dock outside. The film wraps up on the potentially cool idea of Shredder drinking the last of the ooze, transforming himself into the Super-Shredder. (Even if his armor mutating along with his body makes zero sense.) However, the neatness of that idea is undermined by the Turtles refusing to fight Super-Shredder and the villain ending his own life by needlessly collapsing the dock atop himself.

The film is a mess of campiness and squandered potential. Yet it still gets a few things right. The characterizations of the Turtles remain strong. A concept that reoccurs throughout every version of the franchise is Leo and Raph butting heads. Here, the head-strong Raphael wants to pursue the Foot Clan while Leonardo is more preoccupied with finding a new home. That rashness gets him in trouble, again, and after rescuing him, the brothers are reunited. Donatello was mostly Mikey’s comedic foil in the first film. Here, he gets a juicy character arc of not accepting the casualness of their origin. He is also more fully established as the one who does machine, as his techno know-how comes in handy a few times. I even prefer Adam Carl’s thoughtful vocal performance over Corey Feldman’s. I also like Paige Turco as April more then Judith Hoag. Turco seems more comfortable in the part. The creature effects are even better then last time too. The Turtles’ faces reach a new level of expressiveness. Tokka and Rahzar are memorably cartoonish in their designs as well.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze” is a lesser film than the first. The sloppy screenplay and an abundance of kid-friendly silliness sinks it. However, I can’t hate the movie. Any film that gifts the world of pop culture with a bit of ridiculous cheese like the Ninja Rap can’t be all bad. However, I have a lot less nostalgic affection for this one. Instead of playing off the original’s good example, it’s more-or-less the silly kid’s flick we expected the first one to be. [5/10]

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