Turbo Review: A Generic Action Entertainer That Misses More Than It Hits

The action entertainer holds much promise through its leading man’s charisma but the meandering writing fails to impress
Turbo Review: A Generic Action Entertainer That Misses More Than It Hits

Director: Vysakh

Writer: Midhun Manuel Thomas

Cast: Mammootty, Raj B Shetty, Sunil

Duration: 162 mins

Available in: Theatres

Turbo is the return to direction duties for Vysakh, Malayalam cinema's quintessential masala movie expert. After trying his hands at slightly murky and subpar off-kilter material with underperforming duds like Monster (2022) and Night Drive (2022), Vysakh is back to his home base, but with middling results. Turbo begins with Jose (Mammootty), a tourist guide who lives with his ageing mother. Even though his credibility for ruffian behaviour and picking up street brawls is well known, nicknamed ‘Turbo’ by the villagers for his wild, unhinged ways, he is childlike in his interactions with his mother.

‘Turbo‘ Jose is someone who gets to beat up a rival gang at a festival and also takes it upon himself to unite two lovers. But he soon finds himself forced to travel to Chennai after a slight misunderstanding lands him in a legal tussle. The stakes are laid down pretty lazily and you feel Mammootty's aura and magnetic screen presence compensating for the abruptly hashed-together narrative information that just wants to keep the plot moving and fueling the narrative engine. The character jumps from event to event with little or no introspection and you feel exhausted at the sheer apathy of Jose forced to roam around on the streets of Chennai – where most parts of the film unfold.

Mammootty in Turbo
Mammootty in Turbo

The hero shares a special relationship with his mother – one of the supporting characters refers to him as mama's boy – and we get some of the best moments in the scenes featuring Bindu Panicker and Mammootty, playing out the delightful dynamic between them. The dynamic is later utilised where the film draws some chuckles, even in the most densely wound stretches. 

However, the basic setup itself feels rushed and contrived to pack in narrative conveniences that the film hadn't earned up till then. You go from beat to beat swiftly packing in all the necessary plot mechanisations that need to be in place for the action to take off. The film painstakingly tackles a doomed romance, a financial scam, an ousted hero figure and a political nexus, all together with mildly bland affectations. Turbo is not aiming to break new ground and is happy to traverse the often repeated conventions of a certain garden variety of commercial superstar vehicles. 

Following cliches and archetypes is never a sin in commercial filmmaking and we have many examples of films in the past which have pulled off the seamless revival of stale old templates and tropes to high effectiveness like the director’s own blockbuster action vehicle ‘Puli Murugan’ (2016), which coincidentally also echoes the structural and basic story beats of Turbo. You get a common man, known for his antics back home forced to come to the big city and get embroiled with a dangerous nexus that appears to be beyond his reach.

Raj B Shetty in Turbo
Raj B Shetty in Turbo

The film then drops us into the world of political kingmaker Vetrivel Shanmugha Sundaram (Raj B Shetty), a stoic prone to extreme violence and bloodshed, whose path crosses with that of Jose and the ones around him. Raj B Shetty elevates the one-note philosophising villainy of the token villain with a subdued yet effervescent performance that graciously lends some malice to the on-screen antagonism and you feel threatened by his unpredictable energy in scenes. The novelty of casting the lean, common man like Raj B Shetty somehow works against the stale character graph and he relishes the slightly stilted line readings.

In Turbo, Indu (Anjana Jayprakash) is the stand-in for the brother character in Puli Murugan (2016), who the hero is forced to take under his wing after a series of startling revelations. Vysakh seems to relish in this sort of outsider hero, who is confronted with a larger-than-life problem in a milieu foreign to their own, also like ‘Madhura Raja’  in Pokkiri Raja (2010), coincidentally also played by Mammootty. There is of course a long lineage of action masala cinema that has derived from this template but the writing plays a crucial role in breaking down and subverting familiar narrative devices and story situations in a new light.

Vysakh is committed to the bit and tries to amp up the tension lacking in the screenplay through a viscerally prompted mode of storytelling that makes use of weird transitions and he attempts to recontextualise how action films are shot, with respect to the framing and choreography of master shots and the overall visual design. He finds innovative cutting rhythms with his editor Shammer Mohammed, whose zany, over-the-top cuts ensure a steady pacing, even when the screenplay bogs down under its own weight of familiarity and tiresomeness. Action set pieces are well built up and the screenplay follows the age-old traditions of hero movements with the assured guidance of Vysakh, who revels in setting up action blocks with a stylistic flair. 

A still from Turbo
A still from Turbo

Christo Xavier’s score is underused and sublimates narrative tension with its low-key nature that purveys the entire runtime with some mild jolts here and there with unique sounding arrangements. But the inert nature of the screenplay and confounding levels of double games and changing loyalties get tiring after a point and you feel as lost as Jose who at a point fumbles “Can any of you please tell me what you guys have started?”Jose is left to fight a villain that he is not even aware of in the first place. You get a fight scene inside a bus, an unexpected brawl inside a police station and a ‘hammer’ wielding combat inside a run-down mall, that cheekily references Mohanlal’s similar scene from Lucifer (2019).

Sunil is underused as a comedic presence who is dropped in and out of the screenplay as and when needed. The action keeps coming swiftly but the narrative flounders the momentum with excessive time spent examining the intricacies of the ‘financial scam’ angle. Mammootty is effortlessly charming as the initially naive yet street-smart charmer, whose punches land hard and whose paternal instincts hover above each frame.

Anjana Jayaprakash’s thinly drawn chemistry with Mammootty too makes it difficult to take the emotional stakes seriously. Her performance appears to be inscrutable and it is difficult to gain a hold of her immediate emotions, despite her pivotal role in the story. Turbo picks up the lost momentum in the second half with some interestingly conceived passages that invest in some smart mind games between the hero and the villain. Midhun Manuel Thomas swings the engagement factor in the last 30 minutes with a string of decent, clever revelations.

You get poorly staged action beats that are elevated by Mammootty’s immense physical fitness and you marvel at the 72-year-old superstar’s ability to enthral and engage. If nothing else, Turbo underlines that one, non-negotiable legacy of one of the country's best actors, who also happens to be an action icon.

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