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The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Trilogy

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (April 15/11)

Based on the popular comic book series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles follows the title characters (Josh Pais' Raphael, Robbie Rist's Michaelangelo, Corey Feldman's Donatello, and Brian Tochi's Leonardo) as they team up with a tenacious reporter (Judith Hoag's April O'Neil) and a scrappy vigilante (Elias Koteas' Casey Jones) after their master (Kevin Clash's Splinter) is kidnapped by a vicious crime lord known as The Shredder (James Saito). It goes without saying that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fares best in its opening half hour, as filmmaker Steve Barron initially does a nice job of establishing the off-kilter scenario and the quartet of enthusiastic protagonists (although, having said that, there's little doubt that that all four characters remain hopelessly interchangeable from start to finish). It's only as the movie limps into its progressively sluggish midsection that one's interest begins to wane, with the ensuing lack of momentum effectively highlighting the various deficiencies within Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck's screenplay (eg the two primary human characters are barely developed beyond their most superficial attributes). And while kids will surely get a kick out of the film's myriad of comically-tinged fight sequences, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ultimately comes off as an uneven, needlessly episodic adaptation that simply isn't able to justify its feature-length running time.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (April 29/11)

The Turtles return in this underwhelming sequel that generally fares about as well as its predecessor, with the almost unreasonably thin storyline following the reptilian foursome (Robbie Rist's Michealangelo, Adam Carl's Donatello, Laurie Faso's Raphael, and Brian Tochi's Leonardo) as they're forced to once again battle Shredder (François Chau) after the villain steals the last canister of the ooze responsible for originally transforming the Turtles (which he plans to use to create an army of oversized, unstoppable warriors). There's little doubt that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze shows some promise in its early stages, as the movie benefits substantially from the casting of David Warner as a shifty scientist - with the actor's mere presence elevating the proceedings on an all-too-rare basis. It's just as clear, however, that the biggest problem here remains the Turtles themselves; despite efforts at infusing each of them with separate and distinct characteristics, the four heroes remain woefully interchangeable from start to finish - which ensures that one is simply never able to work up any real interest or enthusiasm in their exploits. By the time the film devolves into an interminable series of wisecracking fight scenes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze has certainly established itself as a needless followup that's destined to leave the majority of viewers cold. (Fans, on the other hand, will undoubtedly thrill to the heroes' broadly conceived and executed antics.)

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (May 3/11)

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series comes to a close with an installment that ultimately falls right in line with its subpar predecessors, as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III suffers from many of the same problems that plagued the first two titles in this thoroughly unremarkable franchise. The storyline follows the Turtles (Tim Kelleher's Raphael, Robbie Rist's Michaelangelo, Corey Feldman's Donatello, and Brian Tochi's Leonardo) as they and April O'Neil (Paige Turco) are sent back to Feudal Japan by a magical scepter, with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently detailing the gang's ongoing efforts at assisting local villagers defeat an evil warlord (Stuart Wilson's Walker) and, eventually, making their way back home. Despite the substantial change in scenery, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III comes off as yet another overtly juvenile effort that relies mostly on the protagonists' ceaseless wisecracking to propel the comparatively epic narrative forward - with the film's relentlessly underwhelming atmosphere compounded by its almost total lack of fish-out-of-water elements (ie the Turtles arrive in the past and instantly adjust to their new surroundings). The expected lack of character development among the protagonists remains just as problematic as ever, as there's simply never a point at which one is able to work up even the slightest bit of interest or enthusiasm in the foursome's continuing escapades. It does, as a result, go without saying that the action-oriented third act is hardly as rousing or exciting as one imagines it's meant to be, with the anticlimactic finale cementing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III's place as a barely watchable capper to a consistently disappointing series.

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© David Nusair