Turtle Power Half-shell Heroes Are Back In Action

March 22, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II:

The Secret of the Ooze'

Starring David Warner and Ernie Reyes Jr.

Directed by Michael Pressman.

Released by New Line.

Rated PG.

** You can't get there from here.

That is, you can't get into turtle culture from the planet adulthood.

Or at least I couldn't. I sat through "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze" as would a Martian at a bar mitzvah. It was all so . . . strange.

It was in no language I had ever heard. It played with entire themes that are meaningless to me. It took place in a zone whose existence I had not even suspected.

Derived from last year's $100 million hit, this slap-- sequel is primarily for the cognoscenti -- that is, for other teen-age mutant ninja turtles, or very small children. The rest of us it happily ignores.

As something of an advanced text, it demands utter devotion and a close reading before its meanings begin to emerge. As I get it -- and I didn't -- it seems to be about four kung fu turtle-teens who, with a little Oriental child who also kungs some pretty mean fu, attempt to locate the last extant container of "slime" that turned them from aquarium novelties into well-paid, athletic young men in expensive turtle outfits cavorting before a movie camera.

Our half-shelled heroes are opposed, once again, by an enemy cult called The Foot, led by a large Japanese man wearing a piece of art on his head. He's Darth Vader after a redo by Alphonse Mucha but he's not remotely a character, just a stick-figure villain. He wants the slime, evidently, so that he can construct genetically fanciful warrior-creatures from it for use in a crude revenge scheme against the turtle-adolescents for besting him in movie No. 1.

But the plot, as primitive as it is, still isn't very clear; it never acquires the spontaneity or the force of a true "story" but seems to exist mainly as a pretext for the familiar Ninja banter so beloved of the cult, as in "Cowabunga, dudes," and such forth; and, every now and then, for some exotic fighting.

As for the fighting, there's less of it, but it's still in the same overblown, "harmless" acrobatics, cartoony and ridiculous, played against amplified WHACKS and THWAKS so earsplittingly resonant you feel as if you're under depth-charge attack. Ouch!

The curiosity in the film is represented by the once-distinguished actor David Warner, appearing as the absent-minded scientist whose sloppiness 15 years ago created the ooze which in turn created our heroes. On that count alone, I think he should be arrested for war crimes. Yet far from being a villainous polluter of liberal pop movie mythology, the Warner character is offered with surprising value-neutrality. In fact, I'm not quite sure what he's doing in this film, being neither villain nor hero but more of a visitor. The movie barely notices him.

On the far more important corporate endorsement front, the big news is that the Teenage Mutant Turtle/Domino's Pizza co-promotion deal has apparently fizzled and Domino's is nowhere to be seen in the Ninja world. But pizza is still important to the ninja-turtle lifestyle: The turt-teens ingest heroic, albeit anonymous, quantities of the stuff.

There's also a girl. There was a girl in the last one, wasn't there? I don't think this is the same one. But it's supposed to be the same one, for she has the same name -- April O'Neill -- and the same job, TV reporter. You're not supposed to notice they've changed girls; and if you do, you're supposed to be quiet about it.

This leaves us with the amphibs themselves. They are named after Renaissance artists and you can distinguish them by crude strokes, such as the color of their eye-masks or their exaggerated accents. As cinema special effects, they're quite impressive, thanks to the talented technicians at Jim Henson's creature workshop, who gave their bland faces surprising agility and uniqueness and their lips amazing prehensility. They are like Kermits on steroids.

But . . . did there really have to be four of them?

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