Nostalgia can be a mean bastard. I know, because I’ve fallen victim to its evil lure myself. In fact, it played a major role in my love of the 1980’s syndicated comedy Small Wonder, long after the show was pulled from the airwaves.
For those unfamiliar with this sitcom, it centered around an engineer who develops a robotic servant who looks a lot like a young 1950s-era girl to care for and live with his family because, well, why not. Much like the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” and Bill Cosby’s Leonard Part 6, Small Wonder was a big shiny ball of awesome for young Master Kevin Young. So consider my surprise when just a few years back I bought the first season of Small Wonder on DVD — with a great deal of excitement, mind you — and discovered it was pure shite.
Which brings us to the on-demand release Turbo Kid — a nostalgic send-up of ’80s films, apocalyptic, teen, and otherwise. After my first viewing — yes, I watched it twice — I found it a bit difficult to describe exactly why I liked it, but I did. Unlike the viral video, David Hasselhoff-starring hit Kung Fury, I enjoyed Turbo Kid long after the pop culture references subsided and the film itself took hold. Directed by François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell, this independent action-comedy-horror film was born from a short in the ABCs of Death horror anthology, and evidently, it left enough of an impression on viewers to be transformed into a feature-length ode to the Reagan-era.
As the long-form adventure opens, a bumper pops up proclaiming the flick is from “Epic Pictures Group, the No. 1 leader in laser discs sales” — an effort that creates the illusion that this is a recently unearthed relic from a video store’s dollar bin. And then we get to the story.
It’s 1997, and our hero, The Kid (Munro Chambers), scavenges the post-apocalyptic wastelands. He finds a hammer, a pink flamingo, a nudie pen, and a Rubik’s Cube among the dead astronauts and spiked heads strewn about the Mad Max-esque landscape. Before too long, The Kid meets Apple, an overly perky, possibly psychotic young woman (Laurence Leboeuf). It’s not long before Apple begins tagging along with The Kid on his daily misadventures. Eventually, those misadventures land them in front of the sadistic Zeus (played by professional bad guy Michael Ironside), a scumball with a bloodlust for gladiator matches. Adventure ensues.
Amongst all of this, there’s one nostalgic nod after another: An empowering, 80s -style theme song a la Sly Stallone’s Over the Top, an allusion to Barter Town from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, a clone of Temple of Doom‘s Mola Rom arm wrestling an Indiana Jones twin, a wacky Australian hero that bears a resemblance to Crocodile Dundee, an allusion to Ash’s Army of Darkness “boomstick,” and something resembling a Nintendo Power Glove, plus reminders of the Legend of Zelda and Jem and the Holograms.
But while the passing allusions to VHS staples like Rad, Thrashin’, and Prayer for the Rollerboys and video games like MegaMan and BioShock were nice diversions, personally, I was more decidedly charmed with Turbo Kid‘s two leads, Chambers and Leboeuf. For all the cartoonish gore, synth-friendly soundtrack music, obscure pop culture references, and oodles of Michael Ironside goodness, it wouldn’t mean a thing if it weren’t for the likeability of and chemistry between The Kid and Apple. Chambers is able to subtly communicate The Kid’s joy and bewilderment when he could have easily taken the wink-wink route. The same could be said for Leboeuf’s Apple: she could have gone for lazy flakiness but instead has imbued the character’s personality with the perfect amalgamation of nutty-nut-nut and innocence, giving the female sidekick an added depth most films would forget to ask for. I even loved it when the film openly embraced that most cliched of tropes — the dreaded one-man hand clap Michael Ironside’s Zeus delivers to our beleaguered heroes.
Thankfully, the film surpasses those winking cliches and its nostalgic trappings to deliver smile-inducing entertainment. Like 2004’s Team America: World Police, 2009’s Black Dynamite, and 2011’s Hobo with a Shotgun, Turbo Kid succeeds because it doesn’t condemn but celebrates, and ultimately transcends, the bygone cinematic genres it emulates.