Monster Trucks and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Chris Wedge
Like alien crop circles and the Loch Ness Monster, this movie about trucks and the monsters that inhabit them remained a legend as the story behind it was ludicrous (some executive’s kid came up with the idea) and the release date kept being pushed back. The day has finally come however for theaters to finally keep this around for maybe a week or two before it disappears forever and everyone forgets that they spent over a hundred million dollars on it. Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh. A troubled development doesn’t NECESSARILY mean the final product is going to be a mess, and maybe it will work better for the target audience than people give it credit for! Will this be a film that lives up to the legend around it, or is this the last chapter in a long tale of infamy? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with some oil baron with a REALLY bad accent, Reece Tenneson (Rob Lowe) digging for that sweet bubbling crude right in the heart of Dakota, but they manage to hit something else instead. Three monsters come out of the hole they drilled, and while they aren’t quite the heraldersof Cthulhu that you would expect from monsters that rise up from the Earth’s core, they still are gumming up the works for Reece’s operation. Therefore, he orders all his hired goons which includes the head goon Burke (Holt McCallany) and The ScientistTM Dr. Dowd (Thomas Lennon) to round these creatures up and… do something with them. One manages to escape however and finds its way to a junk yard MANY miles away where supposed high school student Tripp (Lucas Till) works at all the time; even on school nights. He finds the creature and eventually finds that he JUST SO HAPPENS to like hanging out inside of his truck, so he modifies the it for his new monster buddy who he calls Creech to surreptitiously drive it with his Monster Magic. Of course, things can’t quite go the way he wants them to as Burke is out there looking for the monster, his step dad Sheriff Rick (Barry Pepper) is already pissed at him for… reasons, and will probably do… something, and Reece is HELL BENT on killing all these monsters so he can get to the oil beneath… even though discovering monsters would probably net him just as much cash. Can Tripp and Creech, along with the extraneous love interest Meredith (Jane Levy), save these monsters from the evil Rob Lowe? What kind of hi-jinks and mischief, as well as felonies, can this lovable crew get involved with in the process? Did Paramount REALLY have to sink a hundred million into this!?
This movie… is not that good, BUT it certainly not a particularly bad one, and honestly the problems almost entirely come from the script. The execution of this dumb idea is actually pretty solid; both from the production side (the effects and cinematography are good boarding on great at times) and from the overall tone from scene to scene even if none of it really works when it’s all put together. At once, it’s sincere in its attempts at sentimentality and cynical in the way at which it approaches it; like some sort of movie making robot trying to decode the formula to making Spielberg movies, or in this case more like Joe Dante’s films. It gets some of the beats right, particularly in terms of action and the central monster, but the story is a mess, the plot doesn’t flow in any believable fashion, and oh yeah, THESE ACTORS ARE IN THEIR LATE TWENTIES PLAYING HIGH SCHOOLERS!! You’d think that the filmmakers would be able to pick up on those kinds of flaws considering how well OTHER aspects of this are done, but I guess that’s what happens when you emulating instead of innovating.
Let’s start positive and explain how this movie succeeds in parts before elaborating on how it almost gets entirely ruined by everything else. The movie looks REALLY good; not just for a family film, but even against some summer blockbusters that are EXPENSIVE but so damn hard on the eyes (*cough* Transformers *cough*). There’s no shaky cam, the movie knows how to frame the action so that we can ACTUALLY see the crazy stunts these trucks are doing, and while the CG isn’t always on point (particularly when it comes to the CG trucks in the latter half), the design and execution of Creech is better than I think anyone was really expecting. It’s the first indication of exactly the kind of movie this is, namely a REALLY earnest imitator with lots polish to throw around, but only the facsimile of a heart. Everything about Creech’s design, from the goofy grin and spacing of his eyes, to the whale like sounds it makes, are all tailor made for the purposes of making him the most likable thing imaginable. Without ever having interacted with creatures other than his own, and without any real explanation for the anthropomorphism given to his species (for wild animals, they seem rather receptive to humans and pick up on social clues very quickly), other than that’s what’s gonna sell him to the audience in the fastest way possible. All the coos and toothy smiles this guy gives as well as their sassy attitude and occasional fits of cowardice give them a sense of personality, but no real depth to connect with on anything other than in the most basic and shallow ways. In that context though, it’s done quite effectively and along with the solid action scenes are the two elements that basically carry this movie to the finish line despite everything else going against it.
The problem come in when they need to go for depth of character and need to come up with an actual plot for this premise to be about; both of which they fail to do in spectacular fashion. No one in here has more than two dimensions, and most are lucky if they have more than one; ESPECIALLY the villains who are straight out of a direct to video Disney sequel. That’s before we even get into the casting which is SO off in this movie when it comes to the actors they chose to play teenagers. The first time we see Lucas Till is on a SCHOOL BUS and it’s the most jarring thing you can imagine; especially when he’s in the next scene leaning against the door frame to his house, holding a drink in his hand (presumably soda but it’s not clear), and a woman comes up to him who I would have imagined was his girlfriend (because he’s a grown ass man) but is instead his mother. It gets even worse because the movie never really explains anything to the audience, so even WITH him riding a school bus, it takes a solid fifteen minutes to figure just how old he is. He’s living with his mom, but he also has a job at the junkyard operating heavy machinery. When he pretends to drive his broken down truck, he’s making race car sounds but also imagining a threesome with twins.
The movie has a big problem about not telling us stuff until we’re already in the middle of it; particularly when it comes to Lucas Till’s dad who I THOUGHT was dead, but then I guess he’s not. Why do they have a strained relationship? Who knows!? It’s just another thing they needed to add in here from the Family Movie Checklist, and it lands with a resounding thud. What about the relationship between Lucas Till and Jane Levy? Do they give an explanation as to why she likes him? Not really. At one point she says there’s no one else in town like him, but I never saw anything in here to back that statement up. It’s just another thing we need for this to confirm to the family film formula. The villian’s plot makes no sense, Lucas Till’s involvement is purely incidental which doesn’t help much with that whole lack of characterization problem, and they get away with SO many crimes in here without ever having to face the consequences for their actions. There’s just no connective tissue from scene to scene and it makes everything feel completely weightless which makes it hard to care about what’s going on in the overall story.
Now I’m gonna give this film a bit of credit here which is probably not deserved but I am feeling generous. The movie’s villains in this are AMAZING with Rob Lowe as his slimy Rob Lowe-est and an endless succession of hired goons lead by Holt McCallany who’s grumpy as fuck throughout the whole damn thing. I have no idea what’s motivating Rob Lowe in this other than his desire to be as evil as possible, and Holt McCallany goes through A LOT of trouble for a job that couldn’t possibly be paying as well as it should for having to chase down monsters. With him though, they at least bothered to give him a personality, or at least enough of one for me to buy him as a stock villainous character. WHAT THE HELL IS THE EXCUSE FOR EVERYONE ELSE!? Especially when things get VIOLENT at the end!? This oil company’s security team has a FLEET of hummer trucks just ready to chase these people down and they’re ALL willing to give up their lives for the cause!? It’s ASTOUNDING just how violent things get at the end without the filmmakers seemingly realizing it. There’s a scene where the good guys driving monster trucks have to stop an eighteen wheeler hauling poisonous chemicals (this by the way is a plot point that they JUST SO HAPPEN to run into while working towards some other goal entirely), and rather than forcing the truck to stop, they just CRUSH THE FUCKING THING and there’s NO WAY that the driver’s brains weren’t splattered all over the windshield by the end of it! WHAT!? This clearly wasn’t the intent of the filmmakers who were just trying to have fun goofy action scenes like the old GI Joe cartoons, but at least those managed to have the pilots parachute out the planes! I DON’T SEE ANY PARACHUTES IN THIS!! It’s not BAD considering the actions scenes are far better executed than in something like Transformers, but it’s certainly… interesting.
Last year we had a film that felt like an ode to awful movies and was no surprise, a really awful movie. That movie was Nine Lives, and while I kind of get the same vibe from this movie as well, I would say this is the MUCH better version of what that movie was sort of trying to accomplish. This has a bit more heart and a HELL of a lot more polish, but it still feels held back by a weak script and a studio mandate for this conform to every other A Body And His Whatever movie that we’ve gotten since E.T. It drags at points and is woefully predictable, but there might just be enough entertainingly bad moments as well as the extremely well executed and entirely baffling finale that you MIGHT want to check this out on the big screen. Either that or you can just recreate it with a couple of toys and a bunch of fire crackers.
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