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The story of how Monster Trucks finally made it to theaters is almost more interesting than the film itself, a movie shot three years ago that has undergone a beleaguering array of delays and studio blame-game backpedalling until it has at last seen the light of day. A family film at heart that tries to mix in a plethora of tried and true tropes in the genre while stuffing it under a title that is the cleverest thing going for it, it’s a completely harmless experience that sort of makes it hard to find fault with, though to be sure, for a movie that should be far more energetic, it doesn’t really rev any engines.
In a small North Dakota town, Tripp (Lucas Till) is your typically bored high school senior who has grown tired of the routines and dead-end feeling of spinning his wheels. He lives at home with his mother Cindy (Amy Ryan) and butts heads with her new boyfriend, Sheriff Rick (Barry Pepper). His father, (Frank Whaley) is out of the picture, having left them behind. Tripp longs to be free of it all and spends his time building his dream truck out of scrap parts at the local junkyard where he works.
Meanwhile, the town barely stays in the black due to an oil company, run by the dutifully slippery Reece Tenneson (Rob Lowe), who seeks permission to drill through the nearby lake, despite signs that the lake is thriving with life. When he goes ahead with the operation, a resulting explosion displaces a family of previously unknown aquatic creatures with long tentacles, shark-like mouths, and a playful disposition. Two of them are quickly captured by Tenneson and his corporate stooge scientist (Thomas Lennon), but one escapes and makes its way to the junkyard where, you guessed it, Tripp befriends it and hides it in his pickup truck. Now he needs to rescue Creech’s family and put a stop to the evil-doings of the oil company. And that means lots of four-wheelin’ monster truckin’.
Directed Chris Wedge, a veteran of computer-animated family films, including Robots (2005) and Ice Age (2002), Monster Trucks, despite having a live-action cast, is certainly playing for a young audience, painting characters in simple, bold, and easy-to-recognize colors. A laundry list of clichés round out the story that make little effort in taking the admittedly clever premise and doing much more than cashing in on nostalgia for those who grew up in the 80s and 90s with adorable creatures that saved the day. Children will surely get a kick out of seeing the oozy-coozy monsters wriggle about inside the trucks that could potentially inspire some imagination, though no longer being a child myself prohibits me from truly finding much appealing about gray slobbering mush.
As for the characters, there’s not much new here. Tripp, mostly well-played by Till, who seems well in on the joke, is a walking trope, his deadbeat dad working for the bad guy. Tripp is joined by his biology tutor Meredith (Jane Levy), a lovely girl who is conscripted by the screenplay to be a love interest. There’s even the old-timey mentor played by Danny Glover, who along with Ryan don’t get much screen time.
The problem with Monster Trucks is it seems to misunderstand the promise it sets up, putting Creech and Tripp together but then spending far too much time on the bland and obvious story instead of giving them high adventure, plodding along until well into the third act before some really fun stunts get their play. Naturally, the film shifts into a parable about saving our planet with our heroes facing off against the mindless, money-loving Tenneson, but in a movie about a monster that lives in a truck, there probably isn’t much room for nuance.
Monster Trucks is a victim it seems, shredded by too many edits and cuts in hopes to carve out a plausible story around a gimmick that certainly deserves better. For young fans of big trucks and cuddly monsters, this feels like a missed opportunity, or maybe one that never should have gotten into gear.
Movie description: Monster Trucks is a 2017 live-action CGI comedy about a high school senior gets a lot more out of the monster truck be builds when something unexpected comes to town.
Director(s): Chris Wedge,
Actor(s): Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Rob Lowe