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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)


In the sewers beneath New York City, a big talking rat trains four big talking turtles to become ninja warriors so they can be shadowy superheroes to would-be victims in the night. Now, right away, you’re either going to run with this or you’re not. I can run with it — but what I can’t run with in this first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is that the bad guys are a big underground syndicate of super ninjas that are using New York’s children to — get this — steal all the city’s stereos and electronic appliances. With stakes this low, it’s hard to give a shit — teenaged, mutant, ninja, or otherwise.

If the characters were endearing, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles wouldn’t need a great villain or a noble objective. But the turtles act like dense surfer dudes and barely register distinct personalities. The closest emotional resonance we get is when their beloved rat-teacher is kidnapped by the stereo-stealing ninja baddies. But other than that genuinely emotional moment, the screenplay is a hackneyed, been-there, done-that experience yielding few surprises. Making matters worse is the overly dark cinematography that muddles night-time action already hard to discern.

Kids may like it — and that’s probably the whole point. I will say the characters are brought to life through convincing animatronics courtesy of the Jim Henson creature shop, and Elias Koteas seems to be doing his best as a weird, hockey-mask wearing good guy who helps the turtles.

With Judith Hoag, Kevin Clash, and Corey Feldman.