Movie review of 'Turbo' - now playing at the Augusta Theatre

The animated sports comedy “Turbo” is about a garden snail named Theo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) who dreams of being fast, just like the race cars in the Indianapolis 500. It's kind of a far-out concept, given that snails aren't exactly known for their speed. In fact, it's about as far-fetched as a rat becoming a master chef, which was the premise of “Ratatouille”. Unfortunately, “Turbo” isn't as funny or charming as “Ratatouille”, and viewers (especially Indy 500 fans) might have trouble suspending their disbelief.

Theo (aka Turbo) is cute enough, arguably cuter than the rat voiced by Patton Oswalt in “Ratatouille”. The snail is the same color as orange sherbert, his eyes hover above his head like periscopes, and he always has a sunny smile on his face. He works at The Plant, which is actually a vegetable garden, with his stick-in-the-mud brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti). Turbo loves everything to do with speed and racing; he sports a checkered flag on his shell and worships Guy Gagne (Bill Hader), a French-Canadian champion of the Indy 500. And, being that he's a snail, he can run the length of a wooden ruler in 17 minutes flat, a personal best.

That all changes when Turbo wishes upon a star Pinocchio-style and becomes the fastest snail anyone has ever seen. The problem is, even though Turbo's dream comes true, he never really changes as a character, remaining the same sunny optimist from beginning to end and learning basically nothing. Other characters who made a wish might come to mind while watching “Turbo”, like the little wooden boy in “Pinocchio” or Josh Baskin in “Big”, and the reason they're memorable is because they had to go on an inner journey to get what they wanted. That kind of arc is absent from Turbo's story. I certainly don't want to pour salt on the little guy, but I'm not sure he deserves his own movie. (DreamWorks disagrees; not only did the studio produce “Turbo”, it's giving him his own TV series, which will debut on Netflix in December.)

Luckily, after Turbo and Chet get kicked out of The Plant, they meet up with a colorful cast of supporting characters, and the middle part of the movie comes to life in a way that's fun and even refreshing. They meet Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson) and his pit crew, Burn (Maya Rudolph), Smooth Move (Snoop Dogg) and White Shadow (Michael Bell). They also get unofficially adopted by Tito (Michael Pena), who runs a taco hut with his brother, Angelo (Luis Guzman) and is always trying to pull off crazy schemes, the funniest of which involves starting the “Taco-volution.”

You might have noticed that most of the cast members mentioned above are nonwhite. Where other animated movies have often whitewashed their stories or relied on offensive stereotypes, “Turbo” deserves credit for its racial diversity. It takes place in a version of America that viewers might recognize from real life but not necessarily from other big-studio animated releases.

The movie becomes more predictable in the home stretch, as Turbo enters as a competitor in the Indy 500 race and discovers his hero, Guy Gagne, isn't such a great guy after all. The filmmakers used real-life racing champions as consultants, and the result is a climactic race that looks fantastic. But NASCAR fans might agree with Chet when he says, “This is ridiculous. A snail cannot race in a competition meant for cars.” With so many human characters (always a downside of computer animation) and extensive use of actual sports iconography, the movie might have worked better as a “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”-style mash-up of live-action and animation.

Reynolds, who was hilarious as the voice of Guy in this spring's animated hit “The Croods”, has had a rough summer. “R.I.P.D.” opened on the same day as “Turbo”, and they both flopped. The director of “Turbo”, David Soren, has said he wanted to make “Fast & Furious” with snails. He may have succeeded on those terms, but don't expect five sequels.

“Turbo” will be playing through August 1 at the Augusta Historic Theatre, 523 State Street. The matinee show is in 2D; it starts at 2 p.m. on Sunday and Wednesday and costs $6. The evening show is in 3D; it starts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and costs $8.

Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college. He lives in Wichita.