When you tap an old school Ninja Turtles fan on the shoulder and demand to know what their feelings are when they hear the words “Turtles In Time”, the response you would usually get – after “Who the hell are you and how did you get in my house?” of course – is usually “Oh I remember that video game!”.
This is because most Turtles fans would have blotted the third movie from the original trilogy out of their minds like a traumatic childhood incident, but is it really THAT bad?
Certainly the addition of an outlandish gimmick in order to plant bums firmly on cinema seats smells of desperation (Jason Vorhees in New York? Pinhead in space?) but at least hurling our four heroes to the time of Feudal Japan makes thematic sense… so let’s tighten our eyes masks and dive into this timewarp of shells, samurai and slapstick and let see, if one way or another, the turtles are history.
After April O’Neil is end back through time to Japan 1603 thanks to a sceptre she bought from a flea market (hope she kept the receipt…), her mass is replaced in our time with the exceedingly confused Prince Kenshin and her turtle friends realise that they’re going to have to travel after her to save her. Leaving rodent sensei Splinter and greasy crime fighter Casey Jones to keep an eye on whomever replaces them in our time, the turtles leap back into the past and find themselves in the middle of a struggle between peaceful villagers led by the defiant Mitzu and the kingdom of war mongering Lord Norinaga. The turtles find themselves bouncing from fight to fight like they’re following a checklist and deal with the various obstacles in their usual upbeat, surfer dude demeanor, but if they don’t wrap up loose ends and jump back to the 90’s within 60 hours, the sceptre’s power will burn out and everyone involved will be stranded like an introvert at a wedding.
Can Leo, Raph, Donnie and Mikey hone their ninja skills, thwart duplicitous, dastardly weapons dealer Walker who has the ear of the lord and get the hell back to the time of Vanilla Ice and Baywatch Nights?
So despite my hopeful intro earlier on (I was trying to create a sense of mystery – sue me) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III ends up being least of the original run of movies thanks to a muddled plot, forced humour and some of the most unsettling rubber suits seen since happy hour in a bondage club but even though the film obviously has reduced means to realise a story in which four mutated turtles traverse the boundaries of space and time to fight villains in a whole other part of history, you can tell there’s been a concentrated effort to hold the series together. For example, Paige Turco returns from Part II to continue as reporter April O’Neil (who in this movie actually does no reporting), but the most notable appearance is the inexplicable return of Elias Koteas as Casey Jones: the poster child for sweaty, low rent vigilantes; who once again dons Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules wig while secretly cursing his agent as he’s involved in multiple B-plots, one involving babysitting some time displaced priests in the modern day and the other playing a lookalike in 1603 with a wonky english accent for no reason I’ve been able to fathom. However, most impressive of all is the return of the drug ravaged vocal chords of Corey Feldman who voiced purple bandana-ed Donatello back in the first movie who must have been overwhelmingly relieved for the paycheck…
However, all these returning names don’t add a damn thing to to the overall quality of the movie and the last ditch attempt to use time travel to keep things fresh falls flatter than a hedgehog on the highway.
The new face do what they can: Vivian Wu, who already had prior experience with martial artists encased in panic attack inducing rubber costumes in 1991’s monsterfest, The Guyver and sneering character actor and reoccurring 90’s do-badder Stuart Wilson (Lethal Weapon 3, No Escape, The Mask Of Zorro) gives good bounder no matter the budget, but everyone else falls into the stock roles of period piece acting and makes less of a splash than an Olympic diver.
However, it’s not the acting or a bewildering plot that brings the film down – Casey Jones’ introducing men from the past to such modern delights such as arcade games and hockey would surely cause more damage to the time line than shooting Sarah Connor – no, what drives the film deep onto the ground is the awful effects work on the turtles themselves. The previous two movies boasted suits and animatronics from Jim Henson’s workshop but here they were designed by someone else – and by fuck it shows. You really take for granted how the previous films managed to breath life into our main quartet to the point that you ignore that they are a mess of rubber and mechanics but here, everyone looks like they’re all recovering from some sort of mild stroke or something. In some of the outdoor shots you can clearly see the suit performer’s eye holes beneath the turtles masks but that’s nothing compared to the frankly terrifying dead eyes and spastically flapping mouths that makes them look like they’ve been possesed by some unholy homunculus that’s crammed massive dentures into their piehole’s that are way too big for their mouths. The stunt guys do their best, dancing, flipping and even riding horses in their bulky getups – not to mention the uncomfortable moment of watching a guy in a rubbery green turtle costume give mouth to mouth to an injured child – but it’s not enough to prevent the whole endeavor feeling like a ratty TV movie.
It’s not exactly unwatchable to anyone under ten, although some of the pop culture references will no doubt be alien to them as a foreign language (Backdraft? Really?) but it’s unsurprising that this movie temporarily deep-sixed the movie franchise and ironically left our heroes in a half shell without a future.