I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Monster Trucks

MONSTER TRUCKS is literally about monster trucks. This is a movie about an oil company drilling through a pocket of water deep beneath the earth, accidentally releasing a huge, squid-like creature who crawls into a junkyard and hides inside the chassis of a teen’s crappy pickup truck. Soon the teen discovers that the creature can wrap its tentacles around the axels and spin them, basically acting as its engine. Also it eats oil and it can not only drive and steer the truck but jump and bounce and climb up walls and shit.

So this teen, Tripp (Lucas Till, aka Havok in X-MEN and TV’s new MacGyver), names the monster “Creech” and drives around in him like extreme E.T. But he has to hide him from a private security team led by cruel Burke (Holt McCallany, CREEPSHOW 2, TYSON, BULLET TO THE HEAD, BLACKHAT, JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK) and, like Free Willy or the T-800 or somebody, get him back home. He does it with the help of his squeaky-voiced biology tutor Meredith (I had no idea that was Jane Levy, star of EVIL DEAD and DON’T BREATHE) and a conscience-stricken scientist from the oil company (Thomas Lennon, HERBIE FULLY LOADED).

Here are some actors I was surprised were in the movie, from least surprising to most:

5. Rob Lowe as the asshole CEO of the oil company
4. Barry Pepper as the town sheriff and Tripp’s stepdad, who he doesn’t like
3. Danny Glover as Tripp’s kind, wheelchair-bound boss at the junkyard
2. Frank Whaley as his deadbeat real dad
1. Amy Ryan as his mom

I don’t know if you know this, but in movies, if you’re a troubled working class teen then you definitely know how to fix engines and build cars and shit. (See: CHRISTINE, TOKYO DRIFT, Megan Fox in TRANSFORMERS, Ben Grimm in FANTASTIC FOUR, guy in FOOTLOOSE, etc.) Trip not only knows how to build an engine but how to cut apart and completely reconfigure a truck. He should pimp rides for Xzibit.

I guess since he spends so much time learning advanced auto repair he’s a loner. Like an underdog, he gets made fun of by a rich kid (Jedidiah Goodacre, TOMORROWLAND) from school who drives a fancy truck equipped with a blond girlfriend (Samara Weaving from Ash vs. Evil Dead). But he’s not a nerd, he’s James-Dean-cool and he’s one of these blandly hunky long-haired guys that have cropped up in the wake of Chris Hemsworth. Meredith clearly has a long-held crush on him (he’s not totally sure who she is at the beginning) and there’s a funny subplot about a dorky kid named Sam (Tucker Albrizzi, PARANORMAN) who idolizes him. Also his name is Tripp. So basically, he could be the popular kid if he bothered.

I noticed two major product placement sponsors. The most obvious is Dodge trucks. Major scenes take place at a Dodge dealership, and all the bad guys also drive exclusively Dodge. The weirder one is Big Red soda. I love that Trip is introduced standing on his porch swigging a Big Red the way any other movie character would swig a beer.

They must’ve really needed that Big Red money, because to be honest the look of the movie is pretty low rent. Generic small town, not many people there, lots of fields and lifeless rural roads. The director has previously only done three computer animated features: ICE AGE (didn’t like), ROBOTS (hated) and EPIC (really liked that one, and I bet you don’t know what it is because what the fuck were they thinking with the non-descriptive title?). It’s weird to me that with the exception of Tim Burton none of these animators-turned-live-action-directors seem to be world class visualists. Maybe they need to take some photography courses or something.

On the other hand, the unsustainably large budget obviously comes from the animated vehicle-squid, and in that area Wedge gets the job done. Creech is ugly-cute, like a big dumb sea lion. Admirably they never go too far into sentimentality or trying to give him human-like emotions. He’s mostly a pet that you can drive, like Meredith’s horse. I like the mechanics of the truck, modified to nudge Creech with the steering wheel, give him a view, open the sides if he needs to use his tentacles, or feed him gasoline for energy. As a living vehicle he can use his appendages to grab at pursuing vehicles, climb, leap frog, etc. For me it never got old watching what he could do.

The effects are great, but there seem to be a ton of real truck stunts too. I noticed the stunt coordinator and second unit director was Spiro Razatos, who provided vehicle action for many a MANIAC COP and FAST AND FURIOUS film.

If you are a parent you should be aware that the little kids in the sparsely-attended opening night showing giggled and “whoaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh”ed at every crazy jump, spin, flip or collision in the movie as well as the occasional puke or visible buttcrack. It’s rated PG and definitely appropriate for kids but there are an awful lot of security assholes who, it would seem from the seriousness of their truck crashes, had to have died. (One of them even gets a Wilhelm scream, might as well be a Nazi falling off a bridge.) And the heroes make a conscious decision to do something that they estimate has a 95%-100% chance of resulting in their deaths. But overall the movie is goofy, funny and big-hearted enough that it’s hard not to revel in its boyish enthusiasm for monsters and trucks.

On day 1 the multiplex downtown already only had four daily showings in their smallest theater. So I consider myself a coastal elite for having seen it. It’s not tragedy that it’s already considered a huge flop, but it’s kinda too bad, because I bet they would’ve made a fun sequel with imaginative new variations on the trucks. Oh well. There were better family movies last year (THE JUNGLE BOOK, KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, PETE’S DRAGON, FINDING DORY) but I really enjoyed this unusual flavor of ridiculousness and I don’t think I’ll be the only one. I mean, it’s pretty much what I expected. The trailer gives away most of what happens, and is an accurate portrayal of what it’s like. If you, like me, were immediately sold on this monster-who-lives-inside-a-pickup-truck gimmick, go see it.

If not though one of the writers, Derek Connolly, is Colin Trevorrow’s guy so he’s writing STAR WARS EPISODE IX: TREACHERY OF THE SPOOKY PERIL, so you better pray this is good. This is pretty much the same story but better executed.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 17th, 2017 at 11:20 am and is filed under Action, Comedy/Laffs, Family, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

33 Responses to “Monster Trucks”

  1. I just know that this is one of these movies, that I would have watched over and over as a kid.

  2. I know you seemed surprised at Amy Ryan but if you look at her IMDB she’s all over the place. The guy I would be least surprised to see in this is Danny Glover. He’s really not picky anymore.

  3. Randomly wondering if CAR MONSTERS would be a more accurate title.

  4. (Actually I meant TRUCK MONSTERS. I’m tired.)

  5. I might be explaining something you already know, but just in case: the title is a pun, because we have a thing called a “monster truck,” which is a truck with giant wheels that jumps or drives over cars for people’s amusement.

  6. I figured that Paramount had bought the film rights to Monster Trucks (TM) and this was the stupid bullshit they had to pump out before their deal expired, but it turns out that “monster truck” is not a registered trademark. So this is not a HELLRAISER: REVELATIONS type legal obligation but an actual idea somebody had.

  7. I was basically just trying to make a play on the classic “Are they ghost pirates or pirate ghosts” joke. Note to self: Trying to crack jokes on the internet while being half asleep is never a good idea.

  8. Terry Gilliam is also an animator turned director who’s a world-class visualist.

  9. Good point, bonzob. I knew I was forgetting somebody.

  10. Another relatively distinguished visual stylist (relative to his chosen genre of broad comedy) was Frank Tashlin

  11. Crushinator Jones

    January 18th, 2017 at 9:37 am

    The “kids build cool stuff” genre was always a favorite of mine when I was a young man. “The Mad Scientist’s Club” and the movie “Explorers” – where a good chunk of the movie is given over to “how are we gonna work/use/harness this cool thing?” is a favorite of mine. And it sounds like Monster Trucks has that element. I’ll save this for when my son is a bit older.

  12. But if Dodge was paying for product placement, wouldn’t the bad guys all be driving F-150s?

  13. I would add Andrew Stanton to the list. I thought John Carter was badass.

  14. I sometimes wish I saw what you guys see in certain movies.

  15. Crushinator Jones

    January 19th, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Well, it’s very easy. Go into a movie with the mindset of seeing what it’s trying to do and respecting it on it’s own terms and for what it gets right, instead of the mindset that it has to please you in specific pre-determined ways and yelling about the shit it got wrong.

    So for instance, a weak and warmed-over story piece with a wooden lead like John Carter becomes an excuse to see awesome art design, cool Martian landscapes, a fun performance by William Dafoe, and a rad Martian dog that’s literally one of the best supporting pet characters in any movie ever made.

    The best part is that you almost never “waste” your money on movies, you always come out of the theater with a little bit of joy in your heart.

  16. Crushinator Jones

    January 19th, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    The last sentence in my reply should start with “The best part about this method is…”

  17. Crushinator – ‘…a rad Martian dog that’s literally one of the best supporting pet characters in any movie ever made’ has me sold. I will now (eventually) watch John Carter. Thanks!

  18. Absolutely nothing in JOHN CARTER is literally one of the best anythings. It’s forgettable in every single aspect.

  19. I concur, I gave JOHN CARTER a second shot a few years after it disappointed me in theaters and my opinion didn’t change. Failed to capture the fun pulpiness of the book and yet another one of these tentpole nerd-bait movies that completely baffled me as to why the internet blogosphere where (positively) losing their shit over it. Please note, I didn’t think it was terrible but I can’t think of many good reasons to give it a shot.

  20. I don’t know, I kind of don’t want to pay just to see cool Martian landscape. I kind of want to pay for an entirely complete good movie.

  21. JOHN CARTER was bland, but i don´t think it was entirely rubbish. I remember liking the pet, but that is also everything I remember from it.

  22. I’ll stick up for John Carter. All of the supporting characters, from Dafoe’s Green Martian to the Princess to the Martian Dog, all made up for Taylor Kitsch being kind of a bland lead. (Also, I almost wrote Taylor Lautner there). I also thought it was appropriately weird and pulpy considering the source material. But I also liked The Lone Ranger.

  23. This all comes down to the rise of the bland leading man who overcompensates with either a cute actorly name, or a hyphenated surname we keep getting around the wrong way – is it Aaron Johnson-Taylor or Taylor Aaron-Johnson, or Aaron Taylor-Johnson? And they all sound and look the same – Kit Harrington (Pompeii), Taylor Kitsch (aforementioned John Carter, but he was decent in True Detective 2 I’ll give him that), Kellan Lutz (Renny Harlins Hercules), Taylor Lautner, etc.

    Makes me appreciate the no-bullshit names John Wayne, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Dean Martin, Scott Adkins.

  24. You realize two out of five of those names are fake, right? Even Alfredo Pacino had to shorten his given name to seem less “ethnic.” At least people can use their real names now. As a guy with a weird name that almost certainly would have been changed to “Mark Leonard” or some boring Anglo crap like that back in the day, I call bullshit on these names being no-bullshit.

  25. Let me guess your real name; Marcel Leovich Copernicus III

  26. You’re a quarter right.

  27. No-bullshit doesn’t mean they are birth names, Mr Marcel Copernicus Leopold Theroux the III. If this generation of leading men are using their real names, then I’m blaming the parents. John Wayne got past that quick smart. Fuck, his parents must have hated him.

  28. And what about Cobras parents, naming their son Marion? That is not very nice

  29. Also, may I suggest we call Mr Majestyk Marcel Copernicus Leopold Theroux III whenever he becomes too snarky for us?

  30. Eh. Old man yells at cloud. People have different names now than when you were a kid. Big whoop. It’s happened to every single generation, and it’ll happen to all these Taylors, too. And it’s a good thing, unless you wish we were all named Hezekiah or some other Old Testament shit.

  31. That one’s actually so close to my real name that I wouldn’t mind at all.

  32. I don´t know what it is like over there, but old names have a tendency to become trendy or popular again, unless it´s Adolf. Hezekiah is kind of cool. I would not fuck with a guy named Hezekiah.

  33. It’s cool because it’s unusual. If everybody had it, it wouldn’t be cool anymore.

    Also, if John Wayne wasn’t a total wiener, he’d have rocked Marion like a champion. I had the chance to go with a more standard American “no-bullshit” kind of name when I was a kid, and I said fuck that. I’m Marcel Copernicus Leopold Theroux III, and not one person in my whole life has ever made fun of it to my face because I own that shit.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>