An unsurprising byproduct of these franchise-happy times, Jonathan Liebesman’s take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gives the underground comic-turned-beloved cartoon a needlessly contrived origin story for its main quartet of digitally rendered, reptile vigilantes (led by Knoxville’s Leonardo), rodent sensei Splinter (voiced by Shalhoub), blade-wielding foe Shredder (Masamune), and intrepid journalist April O’Neil (Fox).
O’Neil’s stubborn investigation into Shredder’s brutish Foot Clan lands her face-to-face with Manhattan’s secret heroes – a slang-slinging, sewer-dwelling, pizza-loving lot – and the city’s not-so-subtle villain – scheming industrialist Eric Sacks (Fichtner, on evil autopilot). What follows is a typical race-against-time plot laced with a half-hearted, family-is-everything lesson. More egregious than the well-worn blockbuster blueprint are the occasions when Fox’s character is blatantly objectified (colleague Will Arnett takes the time to leer at her ass mid-chase; one Turtle remarks how the sight of her “makes my shell feel tighter”), along with the shameless instances of product placement – missteps easily associated with the influence of producer Michael Bay (the Transformers films).
A consistently workmanlike helmer, Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans, Battle: Los Angeles) keeps the pace brisk and the overall tone closer to that of the recent G.I. Joe vehicles, infusing this glorified toy commercial with an almost aggressively knowing sense of humor and exactly one fun action sequence on New York’s most conveniently located mountaintop. The finale then devolves into derivative derring-do that mashes together into a muddle of frantic skyscraper-toppling mayhem the robot samurai baddie from last summer’s The Wolverine and the toxin-minded ticking clock from The Amazing Spider-Man the year before.
Then again, kids who are new to the Turtles won’t know any better, and nostalgia-driven parents probably couldn’t care less. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles thrives on indifference, but by this point in the season, there’s something to be said for generic bombast that at least has the courtesy to come in under two hours.