Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

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After the box-office success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of the Ooze, New Line Cinema gave the go-ahead to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, the final film of the original live-action trilogy.  Unlike Part 2, which was thrusted into theaters less than a year after the first movie's release, Part 3 was given a little extra time to simmer.  Fans of the Turtles were champing at the bit for another installment, ready to witness yet another spirited adventure piloted by our unconquerable "Heroes In a Half-Shell."  Which beloved characters from the animated TV series would be birthed onto the big screen in the next film?  The possibilities were nearly endless -- Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman, The Rat King, Leatherhead, The Neutrinos... or how about, none of the above?  Yes, the glaring exclusion of some of the franchise's most notorious villains is just one of the reasons why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III will leave eager viewers green in disgust.

While the first two movies featured the Turtles mixing it up with the likes of Shredder, the Foot Clan and other mutants, TMNT III resorts to introducing a bland army of bad guys who hadn't seen before anywhere in the series and subsequently haven't been heard from since.  The film begins with April (Paige Turco returning from Part 2) visiting the guys in their subterranean home of the abandoned subway station shown near the end of The Secret Of the Ooze.  The roving reporter bears gifts purchased for her pals from a local flea market, most notably an ancient Japanese antique for Splinter in the form of a mysterious golden scepter.  While handling the magic wand, the thing goes haywire, transporting April back to feudal Japan circa 1603 and dropping the scrappy Prince Kenshin (Henry Hayashi) in her place.  Ah, yes, this flick deals with time-travel, a gimmick usually applied when all other attempts at keeping a property fresh have fizzled out.  Why such an unimaginative premise found its niche in another medium (1991's Turtles In Time arcade game and its various home console versions), the exhausted situation fails to bring anything new to the table.

So it's up to the Turtles to jet back to the past and rescue April from the collective clutches of Lord Norinaga (Sab Shimono) and English trader Walker (Stuart Wilson).  Why the studio chose to employ two of the most generic antagonists to square off against our heroes is beyond all comprehension; such a lively, diverse batch of enemies had already been established in the toy line and cartoons, and any two of them could have served much more of a challenge to the Turtles.  The obligatory "ticking clock" is exploited, as the boys have only two days to nab April and hop back to the present before the space-time continuum seals off their path home.  A glimmer of hope shines through this mess when Casey Jones (Elias Koteas) returns, but the role is a complete waste when he is assigned to babysit Norinaga's Honor Guards sent to the present in the Turtles' place.  Koteas supplies a secondary role as Whit, a prisoner and ancestor of Casey who, for whatever reason, is being held by Norinaga, but he remains just another unnecessary component in this mishmash of lazy fight scenes, uninspired plot turns and some of the worst dialog ever committed to paper.

Another obvious omission in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is the charming special effects work supplied in the first two movies by Jim Henson's Creature Shop.  Picking up the task this time is the thoughtlessly-named All Effects Company, a bargain-basement department headed by animatronic "artist" Eric Allard.  While Allard's talents have been better displayed in films such as Short Circuit, Alien Resurrection and The Matrix Reloaded, the Turtle costumes showcased in this third outing leave much to be desired.  For instance, their mouths move erratically, barely syncing up with the poorly-constructed conversation oozing from the inferior script.  Additionally, slits built under the Turtles' bandanas allow the actors inside the suits to see the awfulness unfolding before them, a detail that distracts the viewer all throughout this crap-fest.  Splinter looks even more repulsive, never being shown from the waist down and shambling around like the robot he is.  In a movie that relies so heavily on special effects, Allard and his crew would be better off bragging about their creation of the Energizer Bunny than anything exhibited in this embarrassing wreck.

The Verdict: Although debuting at #1 during its opening weekend, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III was such an incredible disappointment that it nearly killed off the franchise.  As an eight-year-old Turtle fanatic in early 1993, I couldn't help but feel cheated by this total misfire as I shuffled out of the theater, ready to compose my own, more compelling battles with my fleet of TMNT action figures.  Couldn't they have brought back Shredder for a truly awesome final confrontation?  Where the hell was Krang?  Why didn't the studio pump more cash into the budget so that the Technodrome could've finally been realized on the big screen?  Is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III really that terrible?  In short -- shell yeah, it is.  Flush this one before it floats back to the surface.

Rating:  out of

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