Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article
In a year that looks to be remarkably weak for family films (such gems as Despicable Me 3 and The Emoji Movie are just a few months away from hitting theaters) and coming off of a year where the best and brightest films of the genre made us think and feel, Monster Trucks reminds us to have fun at just the right time. Fueled by an energetic premise and humor that may not be smart but is definitely not insultingly stupid, it's high-octane and pleasantly hectic as any film of this bygone genre should be.
It's embarrassing how long I've been looking forward to this film (two years now) in hopes it would live up to just a few basic expectations for a film with little star and no franchise significance whatsoever. I wanted a high-energy film that wasn't manic, had a modest level of stupidity in its script, and an effective narrative to tie it all together. On that basis, and even some unspoken others, to fault Monster Trucks or place it in the dreaded category of being painfully bad is not only an insult to the film, it's an unfortunate testament to one's character. Perhaps.
The film stars Lucas Till as Tripp, a "teenager" (Till is 26 years old and looks it) who works at a local scrapyard. He is sent into a shock when he discovers a gigantic, gelatinous, iridescent octopus-like creature find its way into his shop and proceeds to suck down gallons of oil in a matter of seconds. He soon discovers that the creature, who he affectionately calls "Creech," was unearthed by an oil company upon conducting deep-drilling to find a large body of oil. With Creech and two others on the loose, one of the company's goons (Holt McCallany) wants them contained and their presence muted so as not to lose this wealth of oil.
Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon
13 January 2017
Steve's Grade: B
This becomes difficult when Creech finds home in Tripp's lemon of a truck. He nestles himself inside where the engine goes and works the truck as if it's a wheel-chair for him. Tripp and his friend Meredith (Jane Levy) work to protect Creech from the oil company, while trying to return him to their home. Meanwhile, they gain support and assistance from a local scientist (Reno 911!'s Thomas Lennon) and Tripp reconnects with his father (the great Frank Whaley) all while in hot pursuit.
Monster Trucks' path to a theatrical release has not been a pretty one. Shot three years ago and subsequently missing all of its previously planned release dates (including a high-profile one on Christmas Day 2015), the film made headlines when Paramount Studios braced themselves to take a bath on this project, declaring the project a $115 million "writedown." Essentially, Paramount predicted to lose over nine-figures on this project before it was even released, which makes me question why they even bothered to spend that kind of money on a film that didn't have any kind of preexisting property to go along with it.
Films like this simply aren't made too frequently anymore, and if they are, they lack the kind of genial quality that makes them capable of repeated enjoyment. Many films of this genre are bogged down by excess stupidity and a script that tries ever-so hard to be funny, relevant, or some dreaded combination of the two. The immaturity in Monster Trucks - in both style and script - is decidedly downplayed, as writer Derek Connolly (who wrote Jurassic World and will indeed write Star Wars: Episode IX) favors the action and the heart in certain scenes that help get this picture off the ground.
However, the action sequences are what drive the film (pun intended) and they are frequent, vigorous, and an absolute delight. They're handled in a way that makes them clear, yet hectic enough to inspire the kind of jolts expected in a film like this. The concluding one has various moments of exhilaration; the kind I haven't quite experienced since the latest Fast and the Furious installment, and the entire aura around these scenes is fun and amusement rather than calamity and destruction.
It hasn't even been a week since I saw A Monster Calls and talked about how the "man and beast" genre has seen a resurgence in films like that, Pete's Dragon, and The BFG. By its own narrative graces, Monster Trucks falls in that same category, except it's not a film cloaked in a fantastical world, with marvelous special effects and a fairy-tale-esque mood. It's a light-hearted, airier treat with similar morals brought about in a more fun manner.
I'm not only extending my recommendation of Monster Trucks to young children but also to adults that haven't forgotten how to have a good time at the movies. There's no reason a fun-loving adult couldn't enjoy what this picture brings to the table, and there's no reason I can think of that Monster Trucks should even be compared to such dour affairs of recent time like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Nine Lives. It's an engaging romp in a class all on its own, and one you can chalk up alongside The 5th Wave and I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell for strong, franchise-potential films that will unlikely ever get their deserved sequel.