Cowabunga, or Something Like It
A Review by Dave Edwards
It's almost inevitable that a smash hit theatrical film such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would spawn a sequel. It's equally inevitable that a follow-up movie could never possibly hope to live up to the hype. TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze is the sequel released only a year later in 1991, one which very faithfully hits all the same beats of the first movie, but with little of the wit or charm of the original.
TMNT II takes place pretty much where the first movie left off: In the aftermath of their fight against the Foot Clan, the Turtles' sewer home lies in ruins and the Foot Clan leader, Shredder, has been defeated. Along with their sensei, Splinter (puppeteer Kevin Clash), they've temporarily shacked up with their television reporter friend, April O'Neil (Paige Turco, replacing Judith Hoag in the role), until they can find new dwellings. April is hot on the trail of a corporation called TGRI, which has been dumping dangerous chemicals into the ground that were, as we learn later, directly responsible for the Turtles' mutation from pet shop rejects into intelligent humanoids. Elsewhere, Shredder (François Chau, taking over for James Saito) has survived, now sporting an even more disfigured face (and, I guess, even more of a reason to wear his battle mask). After rejoining ninja trainer Tatsu and the remains of the Foot Clan, he begins to plot his revenge.
Shredder forcibly recruits a TGRI scientist named Jordan Perry (David Warner) and, after stealing the last remaining canister of mutagenic ooze from TGRI, creates two mutants of his own: Tokka, a spike-covered snapping turtle, and Rahzar, a wolf with a drooling problem. The new mutants are extremely powerful but have the intellect of infants, making them arguably less effective, but no less dangerous. The Turtles, joined by a new friend named Keno (Ernie Reyes, Jr.), rescue the professor and help him formulate an antidote to return Tokka and Rahzar back to normal, eventually leading to a final confrontation with Shredder, who uses a vial of the ooze to mutate himself.
The second movie is superior to the first from a technological standpoint, boasting redesigned audio-animatronic masks for the Turtles and the Splinter puppet that allow for a wider range of facial expression and more convincing lip-synching. Tokka and Rahzar are also wonderfully-designed beasts, courtesy of the late Jim Henson's creature shop. Surprisingly, the fact that so many major characters were recast detracts very little from the film, though Donatello's non-Corey-Feldman voice takes some getting used to. The fact that most of them are in costumes or masks helps a lot, but I think what it really comes down to is that there just isn't much in the film to detract from.
The writing isn't nearly so sharp or fresh this go-around, and the gags and pop-culture references that seemed so natural in the last movie come off as forced and stale this time. Even the Turtles' characteristic surfer-dude cowabunga-speak seems strangely out of place in several scenes. Many of the characters come dangerously close to being parodies of themselves, with police chief Sterns (Raymond Serra in a returning role) having gone from expressing himself in circular buzzwords to reciting completely meaningless babble; ninja master Splinter is cracking contrived jokes, and even Shredder is played for laughs. What's worse, none of the underlying themes of family or friendship or trust or love are present are present in the sequel; there's a brief, pseudo-existential scene in which Donatello questions whether the Turtles' creation was simply an accident or something more meaningful, but the moment fades quickly and leaves little in its wake. It's as if someone watched the first movie and tried his best to more-or-less emulate the basic nature of the characters (and continuing the now-tired gag of Donatello still not quite getting the hang of the surfer-dude dialect) while completely failing to capture the spirit and magic that made the original movie special. What's really weird is that the same guy wrote both scripts. I can only assume the fault lies in the execution, then, much as I hate to criticize Michael Pressman, who directed one of my favorite television shows, Picket Fences.
Also, since MC Hammer provided music for the soundtrack in the first movie, the producers apparently felt the need to follow up on this idea, taking it to the next logical step up. To that end, they hired then-contemporary rap artist Vanilla Ice to not only write music for the movie, but to actually appear in the film as a performer. Now, it's one thing to accept the idea of pizza-eating turtle ninjas, but for some reason I have a much harder time suspending disbelief after the Turtles fight their way into a dance club and the performers immediately break into an impromptu, perfectly-choreographed "Ninja Rap."
Fans of the original comic book will note that the script is an even greater departure from the original story than before. The corporation responsible for creating the ooze was originally named TCRI, or Techno-Cosmic Research Institute, headed by a bunch of androids with brains in their stomachs known as Utroms. The name was, understandably, changed to Techno-Global Research Industries for the film to give it a decidedly more down-to-Earth feel. TMNT co-creator Peter Laird has mentioned in an online interview that the original plan for the movie was to reveal near the end that Professor Jordan Perry was actually a Utrom himself (thus validating the Donatello scene cited above), but this plan never saw fruition. Following this movie, Tokka and Rahzar went on to appear as stage bosses in the Super Nintendo video game TMNT IV: Turtles in Time.
All in all, this is a sub-par film, whose only real merit is that it helps to amortize the cost of the Turtle costumes from the first flick. Ironically, while the mutagenic ooze itself was created from an unknown mixture of chemicals, this movie was formulated with precise chemistry, duplicating just about every main ingredient from the original movie. Despite this, it still manages to come out as half-baked as an undercooked pizza, dude.
© Copyright ToxicUniverse.com 08/04/2003