Film Review: Monster Trucks

January is a wonderful time of year, isn’t it? The holidays are just ending and everything slowly returns back to normal as we go back to the grind of our everyday lives. Whether this brings you feelings of joy or contempt, there is one thing that most of us can agree on: this is the dumping ground for movies. After the end of December (which is the cut-off for Oscars contention), a lot of studios look to see what they have left for release and it’s usually anything that they didn’t think was important enough to cram into the previous month. That usually leaves us with crap like The Boy, The 5th Wave and a 17th Underworld film just to name a few recent examples.

For those unaware, my friend Nathan and I host a podcast covering terrible movies in which we basically talk about how awful they are while also professing our love for some of them. This particular film is one that I have a feeling will eventually make an appearance on our show. This is a movie in which young Tripp Coley (Lucas Till) is a bored teenager (?) in a go-nowhere town living with his mother (Amy Ryan) and her jerk-ass boyfriend (Barry Pepper). After an incident at a local construction site, Tripp discovers a slimy new friend that can only be described as part octopus/part walrus. Along with a fellow classmate (Jane Levy), they bond and try to protect “Creetch” as well as helping him return home before the evil villains destroy his ecosystem forever.

The plot is not too original, obviously. Just replace “Creetch” with the dragon from Pete’s Dragon or Flipper or the whale in Free Willy and you pretty much have the same plot mechanisms. They don’t do anything real interesting to modify the story in any way, shape or form so the next question is on the creation of the monster itself. It’s not the greatest. When Creetch is by him(?)self, it doesn’t look too bad and seems to blend in decently with the background. However, whenever this creation is on-screen with human characters it is blatantly obvious how bad the CGI is at times. I think I even caught Lucas Till not looking in the right direction at times when he was supposed to be looking at Creetch.

The writing is inconsistent and strange to the point of lunacy. First of all, this is being promoted as a family film and much like Nine Lives from last year, there is so much content that is decidedly not for young viewers even though it may exist under the surface enough that no one really notices it. There is a lot of casual murder. Yes, late in the movie there is a chase sequence involving multiple “monster” trucks as they are being chased by the evil anti-environment guys. There are several points where the villains’ cars are flipped over and we don’t pan back to them to see the aftermath but there is no way in hell that some of them survived it. The lead villain even tries to kill a police sheriff for God sakes! Another aspect of the writing that was particularly weak was the way in which characters were introduced and then completely forgotten about until much later in the film. I can think of at least three characters that are brought back for no discernible reason and I had all but forgotten about them up to the point where they return again.

How about the acting? Well, I was honestly surprised to see some of the faces that I did recognize in the film. Lucas Till leads the thing and as stupid as this movie is, he’s not that bad as a lead. I’m not sure what his character’s mental age is supposed to be because sometimes he acts like a child and sometimes he’s a genius mechanic but he does what he can with the part. I really like Jane Levy and was sorely disappointed she’d choose this as her next part but she doesn’t come out of this looking any better or worse. Her character, however, is odd and clearly a super-creepy stalker. Rob Lowe is one of the main villains and he does this weird vague Southern accent while also looking completely bored to be there. To his credit, Thomas Lennon is one of the only slightly positive parts of the movie because he completely underplays his role in this insane movie and that makes him more bearable. In fact, he gets one of the few laughs in the film when he immediately pukes when his truck hits the ground. The timing of that moment is what made it for me. We also get a weird appearance from Danny Glover and while I like the guy, he literally serves no purpose to the story. Barry Pepper shows up playing a cop and a sort-of father figure and is fine. The biggest crime in the movie though is that Amy Ryan has almost no dialogue and is easily one of the most talented people in this movie. She shows up in maybe two scenes, one of which is just music overlaying the very brief scene.

Trust me, folks. This movie will show up in a future episode of the podcast. It’s terrible but it’s nowhere near as unwatchable as something like Nine Lives. It’s worth a watch if you’re into sadomasochistic cinematic torture… which I am… I swear I’m normal.

RATING: * ½

 

Rating System:

* (Brutal; the worst rating)

** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)

*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)

**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)

***** (Flawless; a true achievement)