Film Review – Monster Trucks
Here is yet another opportunity for us to discuss how movies that barely register a reaction are usually the hardest to review. Monster Trucks (2016) is such a forgettable experience that it’s a struggle for me to write a full-length article on it. I’m clearly not in its target demographic. This is something that parents can put on the TV to distract their toddlers while they go fold laundry, pay their bills, or cook their meals. It’s colorful and loud and stupid and empty. Like a warm breath in chilly air, this film comes in and then evaporates into nothingness.
What is there to say? You know what to expect when the entire narrative is based on a pun for the title. There are some chase sequences, a lot of infantile humor, and surface level messaging about protecting the environment and caring for wildlife. This is like E.T. (1982) without any heart, soul, creativity, style, ingenuity – I could go on and on. But the sin director Chris Wedge and screenwriter Derek Connolly commit is playing things down the middle. The film is so safe, so averse to taking chances, that it becomes generic in almost every conceivable way. It’s not bad enough to hate and not good enough to defend.
Tripp (Lucas Till) is your basic high school outcast, quiet and reserved and shunned by other kids his age. He’s so closed off to the rest of the world that he doesn’t even recognize that the pretty girl (Jane Levy) has a crush on him. Tripp has a father (Frank Whaley) who has neglected him most of his life, and a mother (Amy Ryan) who’s dating a local police officer (Barry Pepper). Most of the issues Tripp has are barely issues to begin with, and the narrative forgets to address them halfway through. As a result, Tripp comes off as the rebel-with-the-heart-of-gold type of stereotype.
Like other country boys (apparently), Tripp dreams of owning a monster truck to spin out in the mud. Lucky for him, not only does he get a truck, he gets a monster to help him drive it! On the edge of town, a drilling company – run by Rob Lowe, of all people – has found a potential site for an oil reserve. What they actually found was an underground habitat populated by tentacled creatures that look like a combination of a squid, octopus, shark, and deflated balloon. One of these creatures escapes the company’s capture, finding its way to Tripp. Defying logic, Tripp and the creature (whom he names Creech) form an unlikely friendship. To help Creech avoid the authorities and get him back home, Tripp hides him under the hood of an old truck. To his surprise, Creech uses his long tentacles to help move the truck like an engine. Once Tripp realizes that Creech can gain extra strength from being fed oil, the two take charge, using the truck to outrun anyone trying to take them down and crush all obstacles standing in their way.
Ugh. The whole idea of a creature – which is basically an alien – understanding the mechanics of an automobile and then manipulating the gears to make it move just screams with preposterousness. But let’s forget that for a second. The fact that this is geared towards a younger audience would allow for more suspension of disbelief. What’s really troubling though is the conception of Creech and his fellow creatures. The design of them, with their long tentacles, bulbous heads, and wrinkly skin is unappealing to the eye. The CGI tries to work around the design by giving the creatures larger eyes to convey emotion. But even then, it’s hard to see a human growing attached to a character that looks so unconvincing.
If there were anything to enjoy with Monster Trucks, it would be with the chase sequences. When the filmmakers stop with the cutesy, “best friends forever” storyline between Tripp and Creech, that leaves room for automobile action. The better moments are simply when the camera is following Tripps’ truck, whether it’s speeding through some muddy grass or cutting around corners within the town, that’s where things started to pick up. Granted, it’s nothing near what you would see in the Fast and Furious franchise, but hey, something is better than nothing! Every once and while, the laws of physics are broken when Creech decides to show himself from within the truck. There are a few funny bits when the truck climbs up the side of a building and drives across the rooftops. Nothing that will make you howl with laughter, but maybe provide some relief from all the other absurdity going on.
I can say with a significant level of confidence that I will never see Monster Trucks again. I’ll remind you, I’m not saying it’s terrible. It doesn’t have any kind of poisonous message, and it doesn’t contain anything that might be seen as offensive or derogatory. It just doesn’t have much of anything else either.