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Q: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? A: No

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April O'Neil: "So you're ninja mutant turtle teenagers?"

Donatello: "When you put it that way, it sounds stupid."

The juvenile/genetic anomaly/martial artist/reptile Donatello is right. It is inadvisable to mess too obtrusively with the configurations of a successful comic-book franchise. This includes you, syntax.

Hence, this movie reboot doesn't veer far from the comic books, the animated TV show or the movie series that preceded it. It proceeds on the savvy assumption that the kids who consumed all that product through the 1980s and '90s now have kids of their own, and will dutifully demonstrate their brand loyalty, preferably on the opening weekend.

So while the visual effects have been ramped up to include motion-capture digital rendering of the four heroes, the premise sticks close to the original, more or less.

A fiendish group of criminals known as the Foot Clan is terrorizing New York City. Plucky TV reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) happens to witness some unusual "vigilantes" thwarting a dockside robbery by the Foot, only to discover the heroes are four cool dudes -- Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo -- obliged to keep out of sight due to their freakish genetics. They are, as the title should make clear, mutant turtles created in a lab and taking refuge in the sewers of New York City under the leadership of their martial arts master, a similarly mutated rat named Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub).

It emerges that April has a personal connection to these heroes, having to do with her dead scientist father. Her insistent belief in the turtle gang is met with skepticism by her news producer (Whoopi Goldberg) and her cynical, slightly lecherous cameraman partner Vern (Will Arnett). Thus, she is compelled to take her case to her father's old employer, millionaire industrialist Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), whose own past includes a deadly encounter with the Foot clan and its rogue samurai leader Shredder (Tohoru Masamune).

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, the movie sticks close enough to TMNT lore, and the renderings of the turtles are enjoyable enough.

But this summer diversion defies sense in other ways.

Like Megan Fox as April O'Neil. The character is supposed to be something of an innocent. Megan Fox suggests many things. Innocence is not among them. (Note Abby Elliot in the role of April's roommate, given one nice comic moment. She would actually have made a more appropriate April.)

Will Arnett is likewise mystifyingly cast as April's sidekick. An accomplished comic presence, the guy has too much baggage in more satiric material such as Arrested Development. One has the feeling he'd be more comfortable mocking TMNT, not participating in it.

Note too how seasonal continuity gets thrown out the window, for example, when it suddenly becomes winter for no other reason than the filmmakers need an excuse to set a key action sequence on snowy slopes.

The haphazard casting and action sequences are baffling in their elaborate complexity. One detects the stamp of producer Michael Bay, who employed such strategies in his Transformers movies.

And one Transformers movie per summer is quite sufficient, thank you very much.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2014 G3

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