Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a previously undiscovered life form befriends a young person, who then has to hide it from scary men in suits. It’s a tale as old as time, or at the very least as old as E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. Monster Trucks is the 2017 flavour of the story, and it should be made clear as early as possible: this is a movie for young children. On those grounds it works. For anyone over the age of ten, it’s a tougher sell.
Oil company Terravex accidentally drills into a water reserve, unleashing three subterranean-dwelling tentacled creatures that feed on oil. They capture two, but one escapes and moves into the truck of disillusioned high school student Tripp (Lucas Till, TV’s MacGyver). Tripp teams up with his biology partner Meredith (Jane Levy, Don’t Breathe) to protect “Creech” from Terravex, led by tycoon Reece Tenneson (Rob Lowe, TV’s Code Black)… by driving around in the Creech-powered truck.
The legend goes that the idea for Monster Trucks was passed down to an executive by his young son — sort of a reverse bedtime story. Whether this is true or not, it’s highly credible: Monster Trucks is the purest form of juvenilia. It’s such a strange premise and execution that it never feels as if it passed through a committee to find its way to the screen, because someone might have been tempted to say “okay, but why?”. With no oversight entered into by any higher ups, we have a messy screenplay by Derek Connolly (Jurassic World), squeezed from a story credited to two teams consisting of three people; it’s no surprise that it’s a heavily derivative script, but that it borrows so liberally from Transformers: Age of Extinction would be something approaching criminal if you didn’t know that it was shot months before that movie was released in 2014. At least Monster Trucks has the grace to be 37% shorter. Monster Trucks has waited on the shelves for close to three years, an expensive paperweight collecting dust: a better variation on similar themes is last year’s incarnation of Pete’s Dragon.
This is the sort of movie that relies heavily on an actor talking to no one and having that void filled in post production; at least Creech has a certain charm about him. Till does the best with what he’s presented, which is not that much, and Levy is in the film by the ancient pact of “this movie needs a woman for the man to impress”. No one else really makes an impression, but at least the slightly gross monsters are personable, thanks to director Chris Wedge’s (Epic) animation background.
Monster Trucks is a $125 million artefact of a bygone age, taken down from the shelf so that it may recoup some of its costs. As these weird vanity projects go, it’s not a terrible one: there’s a chance that, many years hence, adults will look upon it fondly as a relic of their motor-obsessed youth; it just has nothing to offer for anyone with an age in the double digits.
Monster Trucks opened in Australian cinemas on January 12, 2017.
Directed by: Chris Wedge.
Starring: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Amy Ryan, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Barry Pepper and Holt McCallany.