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Apocalyptic Nostalgia

Part parody and part homage, Turbo Kid channels the cinematic spirit of the ’80s
Laurence Leboeuf as the giddy robot apple in Turbo Kid
Laurence Leboeuf as the giddy robot apple in Turbo Kid

Now that Armageddon is actually breathing down our necks, it’s sort of cute to look back at all our quaint, fancy ideas about how the end might pan out — especially in movies, where post-apocalyptic scenarios are less a warning than an enticement to some grand new adventure where hunky good guys in steampunk rags wage war against evil fuckers in spiked hockey masks for the last drop of water, gas, food, etc.

For Hollywood, the days after the end of days have always meant good, filthy fun, and perhaps no era of film has been more charming and celebratory about planetary demolition than the period running from the mid-’70s to the late ’80s, and best exemplified by the priapic picaresque of Road Warrior.

Secretly, all the boys want to be Mad Max, and all the girls want to sleep with him.

A new movie out of Canada makes great hay with cinema’s cultish obsession with a post-apocalypse that looks more like a Western than the end of Western Civilization. Turbo Kid — directed by François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell — is at once a cornball parody of ’80s cult-adventure flicks and an homage to the reconstructed romanticism of that era, which gave us everything from Indiana Jones and Star Wars to Evil Dead and Back to the Future.

The year is 1997. Acid rain has devastated the planet. The Kid (Munro Chambers), an orphan with comic-book dreams, meets a gorgeous girl robot named Apple (Laurence Leboeuf), and the two — along with Frederic (Aaron Jeffery), a sort of Mel Gibson-Harrison Ford hybrid — are pulled into a desperate battle against the warlord Zeus, who makes water by juicing human bodies. Disappearing down a trap door during a chase scene, The Kid discovers the abandoned armor of Turbo Man, giving him super powers.

And the games are on.

Turbo Kid traffics in our nostalgia for all things ’80s, from the cult films of that era to cultural artifacts ranging from the Rubik’s Cube and BMX to Walkmans and View-Masters. With tongues firmly planted in cheeks, the filmmakers pile on the cheese, giving us familiar one liners (“The water — it’s people!”) and tapping into a hodgepodge of genre staples: the sci-fi wastelands of George Lucas, Spielberg’s buckets of blood, the zany gadgets of Robert Zemeckis, the karate slapstick of Sam Raimi.

Mostly, it works, and when it doesn’t, it’s still fun in an “oh, yeah, I get it” sort of way. The film is largely carried by Leboeuf who — ironically, as perhaps the most infectiously effervescent example of artificial intelligence in the history of film — gives this idealized wasteland just the right dash of humanity and hope.

Turbo Kid opens Friday, Aug. 28, at the Bijou Metro.