Snails are maligned creatures.
By JON NICCUM
Special to The Star
They may be delicious, but in movies they’re mainly the butt of a joke — the “look how gross this French food is” gag or the “look how slow they are” insult.
The shelled ones get their revenge in “Turbo,” an animated effort rich in visual detail and quirky humor. The DreamWorks film takes a fundamentally dopey idea — a snail competing in the Indy 500 — and converts it into an enjoyable adventure with plenty of get-up-and-escargot.
“Turbo” is really the tale of two pairs of brothers: a dreamer and a more sensible conformist in each family. Garden snail Theo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) is a NASCAR wannabe stuck in a slow-lane job working at a plant — which is literally a tomato plant. Brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) can’t comprehend his brother’s ambitions.
When a freak accident involving illegal street racing and nitrous oxide leaves Theo with “terrifying blazing speed,” he burns a neon trail toward new opportunities. Eventually, he becomes the property of Tito (Michael Pena), the dim-but-kind-hearted dude who runs Dos Bros Tacos with brother Angelo (Luis Guzman).
Tito and the fellow proprietors at a neglected California strip mall race snails to while away the hours. Even they recognize the marketing potential of one that can hit triple-digit mph. Angelo thinks this snail is another one of Tito’s disastrous combo ideas, such as their previous restaurant/monkey petting zoo. But once he witnesses Theo’s Indy time trial and the resulting media circus, he becomes a cautious believer.
So does French racing frontrunner Guy Gagne (Bill Hader), who says, “No dreams are too big. And no dreamer too small.” As long as this rival dreamer doesn’t go too fast …
“Turbo” follows the same draft as other animated pics about underdog outcasts chasing their muse — which is pretty much all of them. But the movie shifts to a different gear at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as the “motoring mollusk” locks into an epic battle with the haughty Gagne.
First-time feature director David Soren (who wrote the script with Darren Lemke and Robert D. Siegel) stages eye-popping scenes that border on photorealism in their depiction of venue, scope and speed. The visuals blow away Pixar’s “Cars” franchise.
Like many other family movies, “Turbo” leans on cutesy contemporary critters even when the story doesn’t really need them. Theo encounters a pack of trash-talking “racing snails” decked out in coiled shells that look like chassis from “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.”
Cue Snoop Dogg, who adds nothing to the plot as the chill snail Smoove Move. His exhausting catchphrases (“The whole world’s going in slow motion, baby”) smack of pandering. But pandering to whom? Do kids really care if a rapper voices a throwaway character in a racing snail movie?
On the flip side, it is oddly satisfying hearing the formidable delivery of Samuel L. Jackson come out of an alpha snail named Whiplash. Now there’s a snail who demands respect!