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This is not a review. It’s not condemnation or praise. While such statements might slip through, they are not the point. For the next 729 words, I use and misuse a simple term to better understand something that parades as parody but arrives at something more closer to tribute: pastiche.
It’s a simple concept, an honorary imitation of a literary work. Need an example? Let’s try “Turbo Kid”, a Canadian indie film set in a dystopian 1997. Dubbed “Mad Max” with BMX bikes, this B-action-sci-fi-kinda-superhero-movie might appear too low budget and asinine to experience, but, hey, it did premiere at Sundance.
For some, that’s high praise. But if you’ve ever been to Park City during those splendid January days, you also know how little that means. Then again, critics who looked past the underwhelming trailer for “Turbo Kid” agree with Sundance: this film rocks.
If you sit down and view it at one of the few available theatres or opt for streaming it from iTunes, you might not be as entertained. That’s the problem with pastiche. This film honors so many before it – George Miller’s legacy, “Warriors”, “Escape from New York” and even a dash of “Blade Runner” – but nostalgic jokes don’t always stick for 90 minutes.
We follow the Kid (Munro Chambers) as he navigates the wasteland with his part girlfriend, mostly robot, Apple (Laurence Leboeuf), while self-crowned king Zeus (Michael Ironside) chases them, all thanks to a mild slight: they wanted to live rather than die in a gladiator ring after which their corpses would be harvested for water.
Normally the Kid is a loner who hordes memorabilia – cassettes, old comics, an occasional Rubrik’s Cube – before everything goes to hell. Then he comes across something unexpected: a red suit similar to that of his favorite superhero, Turbo Man. Now, with the power he once only experienced in his comics, he adopts the name Turbo Kid and takes on multiple big bads in some of the most gruesome and equally outlandish action sequences since Sam Ramie’s blood bath, “Evil Dead 2”.
Something this violent and unbelievable is either wonderfully compelling or flat out pea-brained. It could be a win-win. But I couldn’t watch it without thinking of something else from earlier this year that was nearly an hour shorter and twice as enjoyable.
I give you pastiche example number two: the YouTube sensation, “Kung Fury”, depicting a beat cop turned kung fu master after being struck by lightning and bit by a cobra at the same time. Are you hooked yet? How about this: he must fight a time traveling Hitler (Jorma Taccone). Seriously, grab a phone, tablet or streaming device and invest half an hour.
Created by David Sandberg – writer, director, producer and lead star – this Kickstarter project is as much a tribute to 1980s culture as it is a celebration of amateur filmmaking. Made almost entirely with visual effects, “Kung Fury” taps into the absurdity of The Cure generation. Sure, we might’ve rebelliously raised our firsts during breakfast with the principal, took a DeLorean back in time or waxed-on-waxed-off our way through impossible odds, but there were more adult affairs as well.
So many action films with music are now only suitable for productions from the Valley and leading stars known for their effective ability to yarn together three syllables, tops. If you ever need something to do on a Friday night, Netflix any 1980s thriller and turn it into a drinking game. Any time someone survives a fall that would shatter a normal human’s ankle, drink. Corny one-liner, drink. Shirtless shot showing off that six-pack hard body, two drinks. Dramatic monologue where the hero explains how he’ll take down his foe, waterfall until he stops talking.
And “Kung Fury” is the kind of pastiche entertainment that mentions them all without ever becoming parody. Like “Turbo Kid”, this isn’t mockery. The creators of both films are true believers. They abide the power of the most colorful decade in recent history. What was it about Reaganism that made Hollywood so quirky? We might never know.
But for now, we can continue to partake in many homages to a recently lost time. So raise your glass to all the recently deceased at the chain saw hand of Skeletron (Edwin Wright) in “Turbo Kid” or the laser raptors (exactly what they sound like) that roamed Earth billions of years ago in “Kung Fury”. Either way, just remember that imitation is the best form of flattery.
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