If you didn't know that Turbo Kid started life as a short, you would probably still suspect something as the film unfolds: this is the first feature from a Quebecois trio of filmmakers (the husband-and-wife team of François Simard and Anouk Whissell, and her brother Yoann-Karl Whissell, collectively known as Roadkill Superstar) who already have a number of shorts under their belt, and at times you feel as if the plot is running on fumes. But that's also part and parcel of the charm of this avowed future-retro throwback to low-budget and direct-to-video eighties post-apocalyptic sci-fi: it's a cinephile's blink-and-you'll-miss-it spot-the-reference delight.
Set in a futuristic wasteland where transport is done by bicycle due to lack of petrol, the film follows the orphaned teenage Kid's (Munro Chambers) coming-of-age, as he finds out that the old super-hero whose comic-books he collects ravenously, Turbo Rider, actually existed, and that the region's villainous overlord Zeus (Michael Ironside) is the man responsible for the death of his parents. If you dig deeper than just the obvious Mad Max and early Peter Jackson homages (the practical gore effects are Braindead to the hilt), as well as the jokey shoutouts to Soylent Green, The Terminator and early computer technology (ah, the analogue-synth-pulse soundtrack!), you'll find Turbo Kid invokes a lot more than that. There's 1980s American offbeat sci-fi like Nick Castle's The Last Starfighter or W. D. Richter's The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, exploitation fare such as BMX Bandits, European western-spaghetti, post-apocalyptic manga such as Akira and some of Takashi Miike's post-modern free-for-alls. (And it does so with a lot more panache and ingeniousness than David Sandberg's much-ballyhooed but ultimately dispiriting Kung Fury.)
The key about Turbo Kid is not so much its inscription in a long tradition of low-budget genre filmmaking, but the affection and genre smarts with which it does so, the pure genre-fan wide-eyed "I-can't-believe-I'm-doing-this!" adrenaline of the project. It's turbo-charged (ahem) cliché all the way, but redeemed by its own awareness and celebration of derivativeness, its wish to recapture an earlier, "purer" way of filmmaking, unencumbered by focus groups or studio diktats. (Ironically, Turbo Kid started out as a short submitted on spec but not retained for the horror anthology The ABCs of Death. But we won't hold that against Roadkill Superstar.)
Canada, New Zealand, 2014, 93 minutes
Starring Munro Chambers, Laurence Leboeuf, Aaron Jeffery, Edwin Wright, Romano Orzari, Michael Ironside
Directed and written by Anouk Whissell, François Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissell; cinematographer Jean-Philippe Bernier; composers Le Matos (Mr. Bernier and Jean-Nicolas Leupi); art director Sylvain Lemaitre; costumes Éric Poirier; make-up Olivier Xavier; effects supervisors Jean-François Ferland and Luke Haigh; editor, Mr. Haigh; producers Anne-Marie Gélinas, Ant Timpson, Benoît Beaulieu and Tim Riley, for EMA Films and T&A Films with the participation of Téléfilm Canada, New Zealand Film Commission and Super Channel
Screened September 6th 2015, Lisbon, MOTELx screener