It’s mildly depressing to me that the 1980s has been enjoying a swell of nostalgia over the last several years. I spent much of the 70s living through the nascent nostalgia for the 50s, and by the late 80s getting loads of 60s content re-released. To have lived through the Reagan years as an early teen involved churning through lots of dreck in order to find some things to hold onto, even if those things were from another era.
What’s terrific about Turbo Kid is that it doesn’t so much feel a celebration of 1980s aesthetic, it feels like some sort of lost work work uncovered in a pile of VHS tapes. Canadians seem particularly adroit at this kind of cinematic time travel – think the shtick of Astron-6, or the art-house magic of Guy Maddin.
With Turbo Kid we’ve got a post-apocalyptic future set in 1997 – the era is locked into mid-80s dreck not unlike a similarly walkman’d Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy. Quill’s mom had the foresight for his mixtape to be awesome tracks from a decade before that, but here we’re fully immersed in breathy digital synths, leg warmers, headbands and BMX bikes.
Story wise you’re getting a smattering of Mad Max on two wheels, following a young lad known as “the Kid” (Munro Chambers) who scavenges tchotchkes of the old world, trading for water and supplies. The baddies are led by Zeus (Michael Ironside), a one-eyed bandit with a thirst for power. When the Kid runs into the wild-eyed and ever enthusiastic Apple (Laurence Leboeuf) he finds himself linked inexorably to her fate.
To the film’s credit no expense was spared in terms of arterial fluid – geysers of blood erupt at regular intervals, and the film is no shrinking violet when it comes to its ultraviolence. Yet the gore seems almost Pythonesque in its proclivity – it’s silly and almost child-like how messy the mayhem is.
Beyond the showering of crimson fluid there’s heart pumping away at the core of the tale. The connection between the Kid and Apple is very well done, and the chemistry between Leboeuf and Chambers is compelling. There’s not exactly any standout sequence in terms of bravado filmmaking, yet the core competency seems to be in drawing out characters that are believable within particularly unbelievable circumstances.
Even Zeus’ raging lunacy seems to have an effective range, and a more rich backstory than one might expect is drawn out through the film. It’s silliness with a strain of serious intent, and the film’s all the better for it.
Turbo Kid is a lot of fun, a goofy ride through the wilds of nostalgia. With kooky characters, pithy dialogue and committed performances it feels like an uncovered treasure, a little bit of cultish fun made anew by some clever filmmakers.