There's no sane reason for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be as bad as it is. Other than that producer Michael Bay, bless him, is a stylist with a good eye, if nothing else; and director Jonathan Liebseman is not. And when a man with neither style nor talent attempts to slavishly copy from the Michael Bay Playbook, as we're seeing here, the results are so dire that we need new vocabulary words to describe them. "Revulsive" is the one I like best, after a quick trip to the thesaurus. Though my old friend "execrable" put up a good fight.

TMNT '14, which I gather is roughly to the 2003-'09 animated TV series as the 1990 movie was to the 1987-'96 animated TV series, provides a brand new origin story for the famous chelonian supeheroes, living in the sewers beneath New York City and training in the art of ninjutsu under the guidance of their adopted father, the mutant rate Splinter (acted for motion capture by Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub). Though in this particular case, presumably to cut down on effects costs, the turtles aren't themselves the collective protagonist of the film. Insofar as it has a main character, that main character is April O'Neil (Megan Fox), a news reporter yearning to break into something better than idiotic puff pieces that require her to demonstrate some faddish exercise regimen by bouncing up and down on a trampoline, a task that Fox is considerably better suited for than she is at playing a passionate crusading journalist. It is a ruinous miscasting of the female lead on par with Denise Richards's nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough or Tara Reid's archaeologist in Alone in the Dark.

The film's first act (which plays like an echo of the 1990 film) finds O'Neil trying her damnedest to get a scoop on the reigning Important Story, the terror perpetrated by the crime syndicate called the Foot Clan; as she investigates, she begins to discover that a vigilante - no, make that a group of vigilantes - are interfering with Foot activity, though she can't get her boss, the snappish Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg, bizarrely placed into a non-comic role that's barely larger than a cameo) to listen to her for more than thirty seconds, and the closest thing she has to an ally is cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), who'd rather try the most pathetic schemes to get in her pants than actually pay attention to what she has to say. This potentially cutting indictment of endemic sexism in newsmedia is hobbled by how little any of the filmmakers seem to regard it as actually wrong, more like harmlessly cute. But then, this is also a film that pointedly interrupts its big protracted action sequence to swing the camera over to look at Fox's ass for a few seconds, a propos of nothing.

Eventually, of course, O'Neil runs across four six-foot-tall bipedal turtles: Leonardo (Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), respectively the leader, rageaholic, geek, and bro of a team that hasn't quite been okayed by their rat guardian to fight crime, but have jumped the gun a little bit. In a horribly contrived revision to series mythology designed to make the film even more about O'Neil and even less about the ninja turtles, it turns out that they were created by her late father in a lab 15 years ago, as he was working under the guidance of scientific entrepreneur & genius Eric Sacks (William Fichtner). Sacks is ecstatic that O'Neil has found the turtles, the last carries of his precious regenerative mutagen, but it's not because he's such a big ol' philanthropist, as he implies to her. Rather, it's because he's serving the leader of the Foot Clan, a hulking Japanese martial arts expert named Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). And that is possibly a spoiler, if you have very little sense of narrative inevitability. Or William Fichtner.

There is, anyway, barely any plot to speak of, and what little there is gets disposed of quickly, as though the film was humiliated by it; the Foot Clan functionally ceases to exist once O'Neil makes contact with the Turtles, with Shredder serving as a generic standalone supervillain with a plot that horribly resembles The Amazing fucking Spider-Man. Plainly, this just exists as a delivery system for a cycle of miserable, surprisingly unambitious action sequences, one of which is underlit and one of which is separated from the camera by a veil of digital snow, and neither of which end up making any kind of sense beyond the fact of sheer movement. I will admit that the climax is pretty well-done, though the physics don't make a lot of sense. Everything else is just a melange of flailing objects that mostly only exist on computers, so busy with so little cohesive visual logic between shots and even within shots that it even makes the Transformers pictures look relatively clear and disciplined.

Nominally, I think this is meant to be a children's film - the franchise has always lived in that place, at any rate - but the tone is so feverishly nasty and dark that I deeply hope that's not the case, or else Liebesman, Bay, and screenwriters Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec and Evan Daugherty have a sense of children's entertainment that skews much too nihilistic, woman-hating, bureaucratic, and technocratic for my comfort levels. And yet then there are jokes about novelty rap albums and farts, which seems to shut down any other real possibility. It could just be that the filmmakers collective assume that their audience consists of noise junkies, and sadly, they're probably right.

The one thing I will allow in the film's favor: the effects are pretty fantastic. Not the design: the turtles look like hellspawn, with their terrifying human-like lips and impossible muscles, and the Shredder suit is a confusing mass of chrome edges and inexplicable moving parts. But the compositing and lighting work is some of the best I've seen all year: the turtles seem to actually inhabit the same space as the human cast, which surely isn't always the case, and they look to have physical mass and weight more than most animated characters. That's the best I can do to be nice. At the level of story, this is a piece of shit, at the level of action, this is a piece of shit, and at the level of filmmaking, it's the shittiest of all, with its drunken, wobbly handheld camera veering around to to U-turns at ever moderately impressive sight, clichéd slow-motion that would be hilarious if it was in the context of a movie that was at all fun, and enough unnecessarily canted angles that one starts to imagine that Liebesman must have had some terrible childhood trauma involving a spirit level and now refuses to use them. It's the most chaotic, wall-to-wall unpleasant film of the summer, and close to the worst film I've seen all year.