Monster Trucks (2017) Paramount/Sci-Fi-Action-Comedy RT: 104 minutes Rated PG (action, peril, brief scary images, some rude humor) Director: Chris Wedge Screenplay: Derek Connolly Music: Dave Sardy Cinematography: Don Burgess Release date: January 13, 2017 (US) Cast: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Barry Pepper, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Amy Ryan, Holt McCallany, Frank Whaley, Tucker Albrizzi, Jedediah Goodacre, Samara Weaving.
The most concise review of Monster Trucks you’re likely to hear is the words of a young boy (6 or 7 maybe) as he left the theater with his father. His dad asked him how he liked it; the kid replied, “That was cool! It’s the best movie I’ve ever seen!” Well said, kid. If I was still your age, I’d probably agree.
Expectations were so low for Monster Trucks that Paramount took a $115 million writedown on it. Not a good sign. Its release was delayed several times (it was originally supposed to come out in May 2015). Also a bad sign. Common sense dictates that I should have gone in expecting a stinker. Well, my mother never missed a chance to tell me that I had no common sense. She might have been right because, based on the trailer, it looked like fun to me. And it is! I had a blast watching Monster Trucks. It reminds me of the kinds of summer movies that used to come out in the 80s. You know the ones I mean, the ones where a kid finds an alien creature of some sort and protects it from evil government or corporate heavies while the adults have no clue what’s going on. It all started with E.T. in ’82 and continues to this day with movies like Super 8, Earth to Echo and Monster Trucks.
High school senior Tripp Conley (Till, Havoc from the X-Men movies) lives in one of those small towns where nothing even remotely interesting ever happens. He lives with his divorcee mother (Ryan, Goosebumps) and her live-in boyfriend Rick (Pepper, True Grit), the town sheriff. Naturally, the two don’t like each other very much. When he’s not in school, he’s working at an auto junkyard run by kindly, wheelchair-bound Mr. Weathers (Glover, Lethal Weapon). Little does Tripp know that he’s about to have the adventure of his young life.
An amazing discovery has been made at a nearby oil drilling site. There’s a thriving subterranean ecosystem right where they’re drilling. The evil boss (80s’ teen idol Lowe) orders the worker to drill right through it despite the protests of an on-site scientist (Lennon, The Odd Couple). It causes an explosion which frees a trio of aquatic beings with long tentacles and shark-like teeth. It’s okay, they’re harmless. Two get captured while the third escapes. Lowe sends his chief henchman Burke (McCallany, Blue Bloods) to find and retrieve it.
The creature, along with a truck destroyed in the mayhem, makes his way to the junkyard where Tripp discovers him hiding among the junked vehicles. He tries reporting his find to local police who, naturally, don’t believe him. The next night, Burke and his thugs come-a-calling. Tripp hides the creature, who he names Creech, under the hood of the monster truck he’s been building. Creech, who drinks oil like it’s water, acts like a super-charged engine and makes the truck run. Tripp, along with class brain and eco-warrior Meredith (Levy, Don’t Breathe), spend the rest of the movie dodging corporate thugs while they try to help Creech go home.
Monster Trucks is silly but fun. I can easily see myself watching it in the safety of a dark movie theater on a hot summer afternoon circa 1987. The only difference, near as I can tell, is the CGI effects which, for a change, are actually pretty decent. Other than that, this could be a Spielberg knock-off from the Reagan era. The makers even manage to work an old Simon computer game (remember those?) into the story.
Here’s the deal. Monster Trucks is no Citizen Kane but I never expected it would be. It is good though, quite good in fact. The heroes are likable; the villains are mean and hateful. The chase scenes are exciting. I especially like the one in the middle where Tripp’s truck, operated by Creech, climbs a wall and drives across rooftops, jumping from one to the next, with the oil company toughs and Rick in hot pursuit. In this instance, Creech is extra super-charged because Tripp fed him gasoline.
The underground creatures are sufficiently cute albeit slimy. They smile, nuzzle and cuddle. They can also be fearsome if the occasion calls for it. The monster trucks (great pun, no?) are cool! Tripp and Meredith make an attractive couple. Yes, a romance between the two develops but you know that’s where things are headed from the second Meredith makes her first appearance. Monster Trucks also has plenty of humor. It’s directed by Chris Wedge (Ice Age), making his first live-action feature, who’s quite fond of sight gags. I admit to laughing out loud when a microwave door pops open at just the right AND wrong moment.
I really like Monster Trucks even if it isn’t the best movie I’ve ever seen. But you know what? Kids will probably love it as will parents who grew up watching E.T., Gremlins and The Goonies on a non-stop basis. It’s derivative, formulaic and predictable but it’s so much fun, who cares? Just crack open a can of Slice and enjoy.