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MOVIE REVIEW : Return of the Green Teens : ‘Secret of the Ooze’ a Slap-Happy Sequel

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bodacious? Awesome? “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze” (citywide) wins all prizes for the longest, weirdest, creepiest-sounding movie title since 1963’s classic maudit, “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies"--which it will considerably outgross at the box office.

Other awards for this slap-happy sequel may be in short supply, though Jim Henson richly deserves the posthumous salute he gets in the movie’s credits. Without the stunningly whimsical turtle suits supplied by Henson’s Creature Shop--a set of roguish jolly-green outfits topped with roving eyes, Kermit-like mouths and multicolored headbands--both movies might look just like they often sound. Pretty tacky.

The first “Ninja Turtles” was a surprise smash hit last year. Snipped together out of the origin story in the Kevin Eastman-Peter Laird T.M.N.T. comics and spiced with lots of martial arts-urban thriller cliches, it had a trashy, flashy MTV surface. But its wit was leaden, its invention often slushy. This one, directed by comedy specialist Michael Pressman (“Some Kind of Hero”) is, in most ways, a sequel-as-usual: a little warmer, with slightly less zip and flurry.

It picks up where the last movie left off, reintroducing us to Michaelangelo (the orange headband), Raphael (the red), Leonardo (the blue) and Donatello (the purple--or is it the blue?) and their rat mentor, Splinter. With villains in apparently short supply, the movie resuscitates the monster-mobster of the last movie, the infamous Shredder, reunites him with his Hitlerjugend martial arts mob, the Foot, and sets in motion the usual madly escalating vendetta.

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Also back: bouncy roving newswoman April O’Neill (now played by Paige Turco, rather than Judith Hoag), more pizzas, more nunchaks and another spiffy bachelor turtle domicile in New York’s nether regions. Another crucial returnee: the “ooze” or polluted scientific ick, that somehow mutated the turtles and Splinter, back again and mutating new animals into Creature Shop grotesques with a vengeance.

More dialogue-heavy and somewhat less frenetic, this sequel is somewhat more to my own taste. There’s more attempt to establish the T.M.N.T.'s as characters; you can differentiate them after a while. But I wonder if the general audience will respond with equal fervor. They may actually have gotten turned on by the first movie’s wild, flip-flopping TV-age eclecticism: its zigzagging short-cuts from one zap to the next. And it’s difficult to comment on the quartet’s performances, since several people--a body-suited actor, a voice-over specialist and an animatronic puppeteer, are involved in each character. Among the humans, David Warner as kidnaped scientist Perry, works up a certain attractively bemused dippiness.

Is there any appeal to these mega-star turtles beyond the Creature Shop cute suits? Perhaps their speech is a weird mix of downtown slang and L.A. beach argot. Writer Todd W. Langen, who co-wrote the more superficial “Turtles I,” goes to great lengths to present them as the ultimate rambunctious, high-spirited green teens.

It’s that slangy anachronism--the Valley Boy dudes and awesomes mixed with inner-city high-fives--that sets them somewhat apart. They’re every-teens as turtles, and the sheer silliness of the mixture carries its goofy little charge: the notion of these notoriously slow-moving reptiles somehow converted into lightning-fast chop-socky kickboxers.

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Ultimately, there may be a dividing line between the ages of audiences who get immersed in “The Secret of the Ooze” (MPAA rated PG, for violence) and those who don’t. In the first movie, I honestly thought the cut-off point was about 8 or 9; obviously I was wrong. This time, since there’s more talk, I’d hazard a guess at 12 or 13. That may be wrong too. But then movie critics probably always underestimate the power of horny-shelled movie heroes who wind up on cereal boxes.

‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze’

Paige Turco: April O’Neil

David Warner: Professor Perry

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Ernie Reyes Jr.: Keno

Leif Tilden: Donatello

A New Line Cinema Presentation of a Golden Harvest production, in association with Gary Propper. Director Michael Pressman. Producers Thomas K. Gray, Kim Dawson, David Chan. Executive producer Raymond Chow. Screenplay by Todd W. Langen. Cinematographer Shelly Johnson. Editor John Wright, Steve Mirkovich. Costumes Dodie Shepard. Music supervisors Murray Deutch, Stu Cantor. Supervising Art Director Mayne Schuyler Berke. Art director Geoffrey S. Grimsman. Set decorator Brendan Smith. Sound editor Michael Hilkene. With Michelan Sisti, Kenn Troum, Mark Caso, Kevin Clash. Running time: 1 hour,28 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG (Violence).

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