Turbo is the cinematic equivalent of a sparkling new race car that tears up the track but can't negotiate a simple three-point turn without bursting into flames. This is classic empty-calories animation, palatable enough to swallow and yet distinctly lacking in creativity and imagination.
Though produced by DreamWorks Animation, most of the film feels cobbled together from spare Pixar parts. One could make a case that Turbo is basically A Bug's Life meets Cars, but that would ignore the blatant cannibalization of the Toy Story films, as well as pieces of Ratatouille and Finding Nemo.
Ryan Reynolds does decent voice work as Theo, a suburban snail obsessed with race cars and fast speeds, despite his obvious lack of acceleration. Theo dreams of a life beyond the day-to-day drudgery of working at "the plant," actually a sprawling tomato vine where the foreman is his happily sheltered brother (Paul Giamatti). This head-in-the-clouds dissatisfaction naturally puts Theo at odds with his fellow snails, because otherwise Turbo would be forced to stray from a well-trod formula.
The story starts when Theo nearly kills himself retrieving a stray tomato in an apparently deranged, definitely hallucinatory state (this is never addressed again) and decides to run away. While pausing in his slug-ish escape to admire the light-speed blur of a nighttime freeway, a passing semi truck blows him into the middle of a nitrous-fueled drag race right out of The Fast and the Furious franchise.
After getting sucked into one of the speeding cars' engines and then through the nitrous tube, Theo is genetically imbued with the ability to travel at lightning-fast speeds, visible only by a blazing streak of white slime. His initial inability to control his newfound powers leads to an accident that gets both Theo and his brother fully ostracized from their snail society. A more fortuitous twist of fate lands them in an underground world of extreme sports-obsessed racing snails.
Here is where you miss the Pixar wit and ingenuity, because in its place we get a gaggle of jabbering, one-note sidekicks (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, among others) defined solely by racial stereotypes. The less said about this the better, since the ethno-geographical diaspora of garden gastropods is a subject for a film with more on its mind than Turbo. Unfortunately, the snails' kindly human benefactors, a motley crew of business owners led by a taco truck driver, are also the sum of their racial caricatures.
The lowest-common-denominator appeal of the humor might have been less noticeable if the film was more fun to look at. Director David Soren and his crew deliver spit-shined and detailed visuals, but the character design is an amorphous disaster, and examples of a creativity drain abound in the screenplay. The film even stoops so low as to deliver a major plot point fully intact from a recent smartphone commercial.
Ultimately, Turbo really would like to be the "family film" answer to the highly successful Fast and the Furious movies. The comparison is more apt than you might expect, even beyond the pan-racial cast, surprisingly engrossing car chase scenes and objectification of all things gearhead.
Like the FF films, Turbo is also one-dimensional, uninspired and draggy when it's not racing by at high speeds.