Movie reviews: 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,' 'Into the Storm'


"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (PG-13) **1/2 (out of four)

While "Transformers" director Michael Bay – who takes on producer's duties for this effort – does his best to destroy the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" franchise with this loud and shaky big-screen reboot, the enduring charm of mutated turtles Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello is fortunately enough to keep the movie's shell intact.

The "Turtles" have, of course, appeared in all forms in pop culture over the years, from comic books to animated TV shows, and both live-action and computer-animated movies. All tied together, the nostalgia factor still heavily weighs in favor of the creatures who've captured the imagination of fans for the last three decades, so a movie employing the best technology yet to bring the "TMNT" characters to life – motion capture – seemed like a natural way to go with the franchise and works well here.

Megan Fox is the human star of the new "TMNT" April O'Neil, an ambitious TV reporter who is trying to move past fluffy stories into the hard news realm. Attempting to get a story on the "Foot Clan" gang that's running rampant across New York City, O'Neil gets the hard edge she's looking for, and the discovery of a shadowy group of vigilantes that have a distinct tie to her childhood.

Looking to snag diehard viewers and establish a new, younger fan base in one-fell-swoop, the darker, grittier "TMNT" is clearly an origins story, which as my "Turtles"-loving nephew tells me, slightly diverts from the beginnings of the green heroes in the comics and cartoons. From there, the characters (including the Turtles' mutated rat sensei Splinter and arch-enemy Shredder) feel familiar to anybody who has had even the slightest exposure to them over the years, only taking on characteristics suited to the cultural sensibilities of today's audiences.

The biggest place "TMNT" goes wrong – enter Bay – is the film's incessant need to use the shaky-cam technique throughout. Whereas the director's "Transformers: Age of Extinction" was loud enough to make your ears bleed, the manic visual style of "TMNT" is enough to induce a dizzy spell. It's hard to say how much creative input Bay had in the movie, but either way, director Jonathan Liebesman (director of the equally shaky "Battle: Los Angeles"), should have realized that fast-paced action sequences, as ridiculous as they may become, don't need anything to enhance their impact: The film's embarrassingly obvious product placements are already enough to make you sick.

"Into the Storm" (PG-13) ** (out of four)

Since it's been about 18 years after the tornadoes of "Twister" swept up moviegoers, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that the big-screen's latest bad weather offering, "Into the Storm," blows away its predecessors visual effects. Unfortunately, the characters are just as stupid today as they were in the mid-1990s.

At least "Into the Storm's" filmmakers had enough sense not to include any flying cows.

Starring Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield in "The Hobbit" films) and Sarah Wayne Callies ("The Walking Dead"), "Into the Storm" keys in on a small town in Oklahoma as it's hit with a barrage of tornadoes that intensify with each storm cell. The timing of the tornadoes couldn't be any worse, since it comes as the town celebrates its graduation ceremonies outdoors – exposing its people to the worst possible survival scenarios as the storms wreak havoc with no signs of letting up.

Directed by James Cameron protégé Steven Quale, "Into the Storm" begins with a unique sort of promise, since he chooses to tell the story through the "found footage" format. Telling the stories most first-person, the film unfolds through several different camera points of view, including a storm chasing team, a high school student shooting video for a 25-year time capsule, TV news helicopters and a pair of smartphone-toting bumpkins who like to record their extreme exploits, a la MTV's "Jackass," hoping to somehow get video hits on YouTube so they can become rich.

Thanks to some expertly constructed destruction sequences and effective sound design (a category that unfortunately only gets recognized for effects-heavy films), "Into the Storm" certainly has the wherewithal to rattle some nerves and should please audiences who only out for visceral thrills and nothing more. However, as the movie goes on and several of the characters haphazardly put themselves in harm's way, it quickly begins to unravel. By the time "Into the Storm" approaches its brisk, 89-minute run time, the movie becomes laughable, but in the unintentional sort of way.

At least Quale and his band of creatives were smart enough and decided not to get preachy on us, the heavy anchor that sunk the embarrassing 2004 environmental disaster flick "The Day After Tomorrow." For one snippet of dialogue in "Into the Storm" it feels like the winds are heading into that direction, but Quale had the smarts to quickly turn his moral compass in the opposite direction, deciding to let his audiences sit back and enjoy the ride, as flawed as it is, instead.

Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. He annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for BringMeTheNews, “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Minnesota radio stations.

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