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‘Turbo’ puts the ‘go’ in escargot

‘TURBO’ ★★★

With the voices of:

Theo Ryan Reynolds

Chet Paul Giamatti

Whiplash Samuel L. Jackson

Tito Michael Pena

Guy Bill Hader

Paz Michelle Rodriguez

DreamWorks Animation presents a film directed
by David Soren. Written
by Soren, Darren Lemke and Robert D. Siegel. Running time: 96 minutes. Rated PG (for some mild action and thematic elements). Opening Wednesday at local theaters.

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Updated: August 19, 2013 1:15PM

Who declared this the summer of the animated snails? In 20th Century-Fox’s “Epic,” a snail and slug duo steal the spotlight from the humans, even the Beyonce-voiced nature queen. The end credits of Pixar’s “Monsters University” features a cute snail coda. And now DreamWorks’ “Turbo,” one of this year’s best family films, gives racing snails the centerstage in a story that puts the “go” in escargot.

Ryan Reynolds provides the voice of Theo, a garden snail who knows to the bottom of his snail-y soul that only one thing will make him happy: “terrifying, terrifying, blazing speed.” He watches car races on an old VCR, imagining he is racing alongside French-Canadian Indy 500 champion Guy Gagne (Bill Hader). When Guy proclaims “no dream is too beeeg and no dreamer is too small,” Theo feels the message is meant just for him.

But that dream seems far away. Theo and his very cautious older brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) work at the plant. Literally. It is a tomato plant, with an intricate series of conveyor belts to deliver the fresh tomatoes to the snails. Theo is in charge of rotten tomatoes; there is an amusing series of shots with Theo getting hit by squishy, overripe fleshy fruit.

Theo gets exposed to a chemical accelerant that hits him like the radioactive spider-bite hit Peter Parker. When Tito (Michael Pena), owner of the Dos Bros taco stand, enters him in a snail race, he zooms across the finish line and changes his name to Turbo to fit his new identity. Tito and his strip-mall neighbors, proprietors of a hobby shop, a nail salon and a garage, trick up Turbo with a snazzy shell cover and enter him into the Indy 500. Turbo will be racing against his idol, Guy Gagne.

The movie gets a bit slow, with too much time spent on the human characters, who are dreary and underwritten, compared to the big dreams of the little snail.

But the film picks up when the racing snails come back onscreen, thanks to the adorable character design, with expressive use of those googly eyes, and especially to the voice talent. Reynolds’ Turbo has a lot of heart and gives a nicely dry twist to lines like “Let me get my calendar, so I can time you.” The standouts are Giamatti as the worried but caring Chet, and the indispensable Samuel L. Jackson as Whiplash, a racing snail who leads Turbo’s hilarious pit crew. He’s the snail who has “the skills to pay the bills,” if snails had bills to pay, that is.

Just hearing Jackson say “I’m going to preTEND I didn’t hear you say that,” coming from the mouth of a snail with a toy race-car chassis over his shell, gives the same boost to the movie that the jolt of nitrous gives to the heroic Turbo.

Nell Minow is the film critic for the site

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