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'TMNT: Mutant Mayhem' review: Turtles are back in hip animated adventure

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures


I guess if you’re going to attempt a reboot of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” for the umpteenth time, having Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg in your corner as producers/writers isn’t the worst way to do it. Indeed, their “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is brimming with the duo’s “Superbad” sensibilities, but they mold it into an engaging, family-friendly adventure outfitted with a soundtrack that oozes several iconic hits, and even goes as far to cast Ice Cube as the primary villain. The film was also directed by Jeff Rowe, who’s own “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” clearly provided inspiration for the animation style, where it turns in the usually reliable 3D animation for blended 2D and 3D styles like “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” It should be the primo-facto choice for families looking for a breezy afternoon diversion in the dog days of summer. 

Peppered with enough pop cultural references to make your head explode (everything from “Ferris Bueller,” to Mark Ruffalo’s acting choices in “Avengers: Endgame” makes the cut). “Mutant Mayhem” doesn't take huge risks with the IP, it’s still about turtles who fall into a vat of ooze, become anthropomorphized, live in the sewers, are forbidden from talking to humans, and devour pizza alongside their rat guardian Splinter (voiced here by Jackie Chan). The big difference compared to previous iterations, including the eye sore that was the 2014 live action remake, is the spunky energy and whip-smart timing. Jokes feel natural and the camaraderie among the core group, Leonardo (Nicholas Cantu), Raphael (Brady Noon), Donatello (Micah Abbey), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr), is authentic. Something that’s not always a given when actors are stuck in a recording booth voicing lines. 

It results in a movie that is familiar and moves at its own rollicking speed. Yes, the self-aware gags and meta commentary has become a recurring joke in countless movies these days, but a Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross electronic score? Now you have my attention! The story finds the crew becoming entangled with the humans, something Splinter, an ooze creation himself, has expressed is off limits. But that doesn’t stop the gang from meeting beloved fan-favorite April O’ Neil (voiced by “The Bear’s” Ayo Edebiri), an aspiring journalist trying to rewrite her legacy, and teaming up for a dangerous assignment. 

They’re trying to gather intel on a ruthless ring of bad guys who are stealing high valued technology for the crime boss Superfly (Cube) a giant, life-sized bug with an arsenal of mutated goons voiced in several forms by frequent Rogan cohorts, Rose Byrne, Paul Rudd, but also John Cena. Here, the movie hits some roadblocks trying to juggle all these characters as many of them fail to leave an impression. In trying to go big, “Mutant Mayhem” ends up feeling small and, of course, the movie teases another installment, which leaves some elements of this adventure undercooked.

But when you’ve made a dozen of these movies, not to mention a long-running tv show on Nickelodeon, it’s bound to feel bloated. And yet, “Mutant Mayhem” manages to overcome most of those obstacles thanks to imaginative visuals and energetic pacing. Plus, the catalog tunes made up of DMX, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest, and even Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap (!)” from “The Secret of the Ooze,” should act as the perfect introduction to youngsters who have never heard the artists before. And having a decent story of acceptance and belonging isn’t so bad either. 


Grade: B 

TMNT: MUTANT MAYHEM opens in theaters everywhere Wednesday, August 2nd. 


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