They did make movies like this back in the '80s, but they weren't as purposefully fun as this retro adventure.
Some films were made in the 1980s. Some films desperately wish that they were. Often, both share a spate of traits, including a fondness for exaggerated violence, a balance between action and comedy, a relatively unknown cast placed in an outlandish situation, and a synth-infused score. Such is certainly true of Turbo Kid, a movie that feels so steeped in the style of three decades ago that it really should come in VHS format, bulky plastic cover, neon poster art and all. The feature debut of Quebec filmmaking collective RKSS (aka Road Kill Super Stars), it's an effort that typifies the term throwback, and a homage lovingly crafted with avid adoration.
The titular, orphaned, teenaged character (Munro Chambers, TV's Degrassi: The Next Generation), never known by name, is a loner in a dry and desolate world. He wanders the post-apocalyptic wasteland he calls home searching for alluring items to salvage, though his favourite comic, Turbo Rider, is his preferred find. When he's not scavenging, he's keeping to himself, avoiding the wrath of water-hoarding area leader Zeus (Michael Ironside, Extraterrestrial) and his cruel, carnage-causing band of offsiders. Then the perennially perky Apple (Laurence Leboeuf, Trauma) affixes herself to his side, becoming the friend he didn't know he needed, and the kidnap victim he'll have to find the courage to save.
Turbo Kid commences by placing its events in futuristic times, as its delightfully nostaglic aesthetic swiftly demonstrates, yet that period isn't as far forward as viewers might expect. In fact, in keeping with the film's affection for years gone by, its setting is 1997, positioning the feature as a faux '80s effort looking ahead. Writer/directors François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell have cottoned on to a simple way to immerse audiences in their kitschy attitude – and this is a movie that's all about its sense of boldness. Their choice of props, from pink flamingos to walkmans, help convey that brash outlook, as do the BMX bikes their characters all ride in a realm devoid of motorised transport; however fashioning the film as a lost relic turning its eyes to things to come is instrumental to the sense of glee cultivated.
And to the satire too, with there never any doubt that Turbo Kid takes a joking tone, the entire offering a feature-length gag the audience is all in on. The simple good-versus-evil plot and obligatory backstory flashbacks play well in that jocular context, as do the movie's low-fi confrontation sequences, ample gore and all. That many characters are cartoonish – the formidable, eye-patch-wearing Zeus, for example, as well as Aaron Jeffrey's (Wentworth) heightened turn as the heroic gunslinger everyone either fears of favours – fits the mould.
It can hardly come as a surprise, then, that performances aren't what makes Turbo Kid hit its notes of pastiche with ample and endearing enthusiasm, though the quiet Chambers and the chatty Leboeuf make a charming pair. Again, suiting the spirit of the proceedings, nothing proves as melodious as the pervading vibe, one where one-liners are traded with relish, streamers feature, and colour infects the visual palette and the mood. Hints and references to its many sources of inspiration also add to the joyful mood, in what may be the most smile-worthy dystopian film yet. They did make movies like this back in the '80s, but they weren't as purposefully fun as this sweet, slight and blood-splattered retro adventure.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Director: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell
New Zealand | Canada, 95 mins
Sydney Film Festival
June 3 - 14