Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for Action, Peril, brief Scary Images, and some Rude Humor
Directed by: Chris Wedge
Written by: Derek Connolly
Starring: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Amy Ryan, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Barry Pepper, Holt McCallany, Frank Whaley & Thomas Lennon
To be completely honest, I walked into MONSTER TRUCKS with low expectations. The trailer made this film look like the 2017 equivalent of NINE LIVES. This film had been juggling release dates since 2015, before finally landing in January (a dumping ground for movies). To boot, Paramount took a 115-million tax writedown on this film because they knew it was doomed to fail at the box office and the former studio president was fired for letting his 4-year-old son come up with the idea for this movie. This film also boasts an astonishingly high budget of 125 million dollars. With all of these warning signs, I was surprised that MONSTER TRUCKS wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be. It’s certainly not a good film, but it’s not necessarily bad either.
Tripp (Lucas Till) is a high school student working at a junkyard. His latest project is a beat-up truck and his everyday life is quite dull, but this changes when a monster escapes from a nearby fracking operation. This monster is the tentacled, butt-ugly Creech (short for Creature) and feeds on gasoline as a food source. Tripp and his nerdy love-interest Meredith (Jane Levy) take a liking to Creech and discover that the monster can actually hide/function as the inside of Lucas’s in-progress truck. With Creech serving as his vehicle, Tripp tries to save this friendly monster from the evil oil company that wants to kill its entire species.
MONSTER TRUCKS has a simple stupid idea at its core. What if monsters lived inside of trucks? Hence, the title of the film. It’s very evident that this idea came from the studio president’s 4-year-old child. Surprisingly though, the film gets a few solid points for having unexpectedly redeemable qualities. To me, the biggest standout of the cast is easily Frank Whaley as Tripp’s deadbeat dad. In most family films, there would likely be a heartwarming resolution as the neglectful father comes back into his son’s life. In MONSTER TRUCKS, Whaley’s deadbeat dad character remains a deadbeat dad and the son is heartbroken about that. There’s no fixing certain terrible parents and I feel that this is a valuable lesson for kids to learn. I certainly didn’t expect that message to come from MONSTER TRUCKS (of all movies), but I’ll take it.
This film also has some rather good effects during its scenes of vehicular destruction. There are a couple of legitimately good chase scenes as Tripp, Meredith and Creech have to “drive” fast and furiously away from the evil oil company employees on their tail. The final race against the clock is very fun to watch and sticks out as the film’s best sequence. Surprisingly, some of the script’s humor that earns a few legitimate laughs too. A punchline to a joke that is laid down far in advance is easily the most unexpectedly clever chuckle in the movie, while the wholesale destruction of a scummy car dealership is quite entertaining.
MONSTER TRUCKS’s momentum sputters in being a by-the-numbers E.T. knock-off. This is definitely better than other E.T. rip-offs (e.g. MAC AND ME), but it’s still not very good in deviating from that formula. There’s nary an unpredictable scene in this film, save for the refreshing deadbeat dad story arc and a heavy-handed environmental message. Another problem comes in Lucas Till and Jane Levy both being easily identifiable 20-somethings at a high school. I get that 20-something actors play teenagers all the time, but these two stick out more than you’d want in a kids movie. It’s especially noticeable when a dorky admirer of Till’s character is in the same scene and looks like he could almost be Till’s son.
While I didn’t have a major problem with the butt-ugly monsters in the trucks, it’s worth noting that these monsters aren’t cute in any way, shape or form. I know that Nickelodeon was likely planning on selling toys of these creatures, but they simply do not look visually pleasing. Creech and the two other main tentacled creatures appear to be dumb, gas-guzzling versions of Lovecraft monsters.
The evil oil company trying to capture/kill these monsters aren’t very established. Rob Lowe is supposedly the main big wig villain, but only appears on-screen for about five minutes of screen time. Lowe likely wanted quick cash and agreed to do one day of shooting. The proper antagonist is Holt McCallany as Lowe’s main henchman, who almost seems too menacing for a children’s film (e.g. threatening torture with a cattle prod and then later trying to straight-up murder a teenager). Also, Danny Glover and Thomas Lennon are in this movie…just because they felt like it?
MONSTER TRUCKS is far better than I ever imagined it would be. After seeing the laughably bad trailers and every conceivable red flag being raised, I went into this film with expectations of tearing it apart and walked out with a fairly middle-of-the-road experience. This film has surprisingly good qualities alongside the expectedly bad ones. There’s a refreshing message about sometimes not being able to fix the problem of a crappy parent, which I never expected to see from the likes of this film. The chase scenes are fun and some of the humor works. However, the film is a formulaic rip-off of E.T. (with trucks and tentacles) and most of the performances aren’t good. Overall, MONSTER TRUCKS is an okay film to stick on in front of young children to shut them up for almost two hours of quiet time. Nothing more, nothing less.