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Monster Trucks (2017)

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Starring Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Barry Pepper, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Holt McCallany, Frank Whaley, Amy Ryan

Directed by Chris Wedge


Roger Corman meets Hal Needham’s The Cthuhlus of Hazzard was all I was hoping for from Monster Trucks. One hundred five excruciatingly dull minutes later, I fully understood why this clunker had been sitting on a shelf for over two years, why Paramount went ahead and jotted down an anticipated $110 million loss on the film all the way back in September, and why maybe, just maybe, studio execs probably shouldn’t turn to their four-year-old children to help develop their next big budget blockbuster.

Believe me when I tell you it mostly pains me to write this review because I was actually looking forward to Monster Trucks. In this age when seemingly every big budget genre movie is either a sequel, prequel, remake, reboot, or an adaptation of a comic book or television show, a movie with an original premise, even more so a premise so off-the-wall as a teenager bonding with a subterranean squid creature that powers his rickety old Jeepers Creepers truck, I really wanted something so fresh and wacky to succeed.

So many people have scoffed at the very premise of Monster Trucks; yet, the concept isn’t the problem. How poorly executed that concept is; how thoroughly uninteresting, and in many instances, pointless most of the characters are, especially the monsters; how flat the humor is; how shockingly lethargic and unimaginative the numerous chase scenes are: Those are the biggest failures of this utterly charmless kiddy car-themed creature feature that never gets out of first gear. Little kids deserve monster movies in their life appropriate for them, and they deserve better than this.

I recognize as an adult I am really not the target audience for this film. I still suspect even six-year-old me wouldn’t have been too impressed with “Creech” or his monster truckin’ shenanigans. I couldn’t judge the reaction of other children in the theater since I was the only person in attendance. Believe me; I was tempted to empty the place out.

I think back to last year watching Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid, aka the highest grossing movie in Chinese history. It was absolute nonsense, yet was so visually imaginative, so enthusiastically loony, so unpredictably bug-nuts, it turned out to be a lot of ton of fun; and Chow did it for a fraction of Monster Trucks bloated $125 million budget. The most inventive visuals in this movie would still probably end up on the cutting room floor of a Fast & Furious or Pixar’s Cars sequel. If you’ve watched the trailer for Monster Trucks, you’ve pretty much seen all the highlights.

Set in the oil boom state of North Dakota – at least it was when they began filming three years ago, a sinister oil company (because there’s no such thing as a non-sinister oil company in the movies) drills down into an underground lake with no regard for the possibility of endangering the lives of any living creatures that may reside within it… or any concern that any living creatures within might prove a danger to them. One way or another, the oil people haven’t seen enough movies, particularly the E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial or The Descent wannabes to know how this works.

Three squid-like creatures that look like tadpole versions of the final form of the Deep Rising octo-monster jet to the surface. Two are captured by the oil company. The other Squidbilly escapes to a nearby town, where the petroleum-eating critter feeds on vehicular gas tanks before winding up in the auto scrapyard where 18-year-old Tripp works.

Lucas Till looks too old and too inappropriately handsome for the part of Tripp. One of his first scenes has him climb behind the wheel of his work-in-progress pickup truck and loudly imagining himself in a series of cool scenarios the way a small child would. It’s an off-putting scene because this guy looks like a male model closer to 30 than 18, and the age he’s supposed to be playing would still be way too old for this kind of infantile acting out.

Blow-dried tween and tentacle thing quickly bond in the lamest manner possible just in time for oil company thugs with stun batons to come looking for the monster. “Creech,” as Tripp dubs it, hides under the empty hood of Tripp’s engine-less 4×4. Since “Creech” has difficulty maneuvering on land and can function as a living engine if properly fueled up – don’t ask how, just don’t ask – Tripp rigs his rig into a makeshift hiding place/engine/cage, literally transforming it into a monster truck. Think Mac & Me, if the sponsor was Exxon instead of McDonald’s.

Tripp’s would-be girlfriend Meredith rightfully compares Tripp’s “monster truck” to a wheelchair for monsters. Meredith (Jane Levy; Evil Dead, Don’t Breathe), like every other character, is lazily written to the point of contempt. She has the hots for Tripp from their very first scene so there’s never any doubt whether he can get the girl. It merely becomes a matter of does he want to since he spends most of the film friend-zoning the hell out of her. Meredith is immediately established as a science geek so you figure her knowledge will help out not-so-book smart Tripp when it comes to helping Creech. Except we come to find out that Tripp is actually extremely intelligent when it comes to matters of science and engineering. There’s nary any romance, and she serves no purpose other than to be a third wheel. Quite literally a third wheel by the third act.

Levy seems well aware of this as well. Maybe it was just me reading more into it because I was so thoroughly bored, but something about her performance conveyed to me that she knew she was in a really bad movie, she couldn’t believe this movie was actually being made, and she wasn’t quite sure why she agreed to be part of it. She’s got this just-smile-and-get-through-it look for most of the runtime.

Levy’s not alone. There’s a rather astounding array of talent that gets squandered in this one:

– Rob Lowe as the unscrupulous owner of the oil company answers the question, “What would it be like if his Wayne’s World character quit showbiz to become an oil tycoon?” He’s so detached from the action his comeuppance is practically an afterthought.

– Sean Lennon is Lowe’s #2 guy: a dorky scientist who is more or less the Eugene Levy character from Splash, just nowhere near as fleshed-out. His big moment comes when he gets to throw up on himself after his own monster truck performs a big jump.

– Frank Whaley makes an appearance as Tripp’s estranged dad working for the oil company. The strained relationship between him and Tripp is barely explored and barely pays off. He mainly exists to provide some exposition without actually being integral to the story.

– Amy Ryan plays Tripp’s mom in one very brief scene at the beginning and then vanishes altogether from the film until making a silent appearance at the very end.

– Barry Pepper is the local sheriff and potential new father figure for Tripp. Their tempestuous relationship is actually the closest the film ever comes to credibly developing and following through on a genuine character arc.

– A wheelchair-bound Danny Glover is the owner of the junkyard where Tripp works. I kept hoping a smaller version of Creech would appear to power up his wheelchair and get him involved in the car chase action in the zaniest manner possible, but that was asking entirely too much of this turkey.

A running subplot that manages to fizzle out without ever even getting started sees Tripp repeatedly bullied – more like slightly harassed – by a rich kid always driving an expensive pickup with a hot blonde girlfriend by his side. They are such non-entities that the bully’s comeuppance totally flatlines because there’s really no uppence to come to.

The whole movie has been concocted in the most lifeless, creatively-deprived manner possible. So simplistic it all boils down to the usual wacky antics that ensue as a boy befriends an unearthly monster he’s trying protect and return home while developing a budding romance with a pretty girl; yet, somehow, in staggering fashion, they fail to get even the most basic fundamentals right. Just call it M.T. – The Massive TaxWriteOff. Or, better yet, just call it this generation’s very own Theodore Rex.

Just think… had the toothy underworld aquatic creatures of Monster Trucks inhabited different vehicles, this movie could have been titled Jeep Rising.

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User Rating 3.44 (18 votes)

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