Monster Trucks (2017)

Starring: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Barry Pepper, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Amy Ryan, Holt McCallany, Frank Whaley, Tucker Albrizzi, Jon Polito.

Director: Chris Wedge
Rating: PG (for action, peril, brief scary images, and some rude humor.)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Date: January 13, 2017

Disruption Entertainment, Nickelodeon Movies, Paramount Animation, and Paramount Pictures.

Written by: Derek Connolly (screenplay); Matthew Robinson, Jonathan Aibel, and Glenn Berger (story).

OUR REVIEW:

Let’s just get all the wackiness regarding Monster Trucks out of the way straight off the top.

The concept of the film came from the 4-year-old son of former Paramount executive Adam Goldman. The young man theorized a concept about what might happen if trucks had real-life monsters inside of them. Presumably, Goldman’s eyes started to spin. He likely turned around and shouted out “Brilliant!” to no one in particular and soon thereafter, his paternal heart beating strong and proud, he started writing checks and Monster Trucks went into production.

Paramount Animation was brought into the fold and in 2013, Goldman announced that this would be a live-action/animation franchise for the studio, launching with the debut movieProduction took place in 2014 and a release date was announced for May 2015. Then it was slotted for Christmas Day 2015. Then March 2016. Then the film was removed altogether from the schedule. And then it resurfaced…for January 2017.

Oh, and also…Goldman is no longer in charge of Paramount, the head of Paramount Animation is also out of a job, and last year the studio wrote down $115 million in losses before the film was ever released in any country or territory after sitting on it for nearly two full years.

So I hope the kid is happy.

Lucas Till and “Creech” in “Monster Trucks” | Paramount Pictures

In all seriousness, Monster Trucks has been a massive headache for a long list of people, but finally we have seen it and I have to say that I can’t completely trash this thing. You might want me to, but nah, my heart isn’t in it. To be fair, this isn’t good, it’s assembled in a choppy, occasionally incoherent way and lead actor Lucas Till is not leading man material, but there is a decent enough concept here. I mean, show of hands, who hasn’t thought of wacky, silly ideas like this at the age of 4, or even say 44?

Essentially, this all consists of a number of hackneyed grown-up ideas piled upon more innocent ones, like ones where monsters live in trucks and stuff. So there’s an oil company, Terravex, drilling in small-town North Dakota and they find an untapped oil reserve that could net the company millions. There’s an uh oh for Terravex staff when they find creatures swimming around on top of the oil, forcing the company to stop drilling. One creature escapes, while others are held in captivity by a curious company scientist (Thomas Lennon).

The rogue monster, a slimy looking blob with a nightmarish mouth of teeth but a merchandiser’s dream of a smile, will soon cross paths with scuffling high schooler Tripp (Till). Barely interested in school and close to flunking out, Tripp works at a junkyard and is trying to piece together a car of his own so he can leave his small town behind. A classmate, Meredith (Jane Levy), agrees to tutor him in science and just kinda hangs around, ignoring how perpetually rude and grumpy Tripp is to her. And before too long, like Elliott in the tool shed with E.T., Tripp meets monster and lives are changed forever.

Ladies and gentlemen, this just is what it is. Despite some intimidating teeth, the monster, dubbed Creech, is sweet and kind. (Merchandising people. Merchandising!) Meredith and Tripp start to to bond with themselves and with Creech, and silly, wacky humor and montages (at least three I can recall) try to make our hearts swoon and feel an emotional connection to the happenings on screen.

That, um, doesn’t happen but we get the joy of seeing the scientist yelled at by his boss (Rob Lowe). We see an eco-friendly message half-heartedly tossed out for consideration while massive amounts of oil are spilled on the ground trying to feed Creech and keep everything not powered by a monster operational.

Photo | Paramount Pictures

And yet, for all the things Monster Trucks fails at, there is an earnestness here that cannot be ignored. Directed by Chris Wedge, who brought the Ice Age franchise to the big screen, the movie is never boring. A couple of humorous moments hint at a movie that may have, at one time, had some edge and bite to it.

Squandering a likable turn from Levy, Monster Trucks just introduces concepts left and right, and never knows what to focus on. Subplots and characters get dropped or forgotten, largely sacrificed on the cutting room floor I presume, and Till is unable to generate chemistry with anyone at all – be they human, vehicle, or fake, CGI oil-loving sea monster.

Honestly, Mr. Goldman’s little boy probably did not envision a movie bogged down with themes of fracking, saving the environment, morality debates among oil executives, or even a love story. The little guy probably just wondered what would happen if the monsters were in the trucks.

And we sort of have our answer, at the tune of $125 million. A small flicker of an idea does start to catch fire at times, but like happens so often, the grown-ups get involved, take the kids’ innocent idea, overthink it, and ruin it.

Way to go, Dad. Way. To. Go.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

SHOULD I SEE IT?

YES

  • It’s not the worst movie you’ll ever see.
  • Jane Levy is pretty good here actually, and a few laugh out loud moments offer a hint at perhaps what might have been.
  • This is all harmless stuff, so if your kids are really, really, really wanting to see this, there’s nothing you need to worry about – unless they want a Creech all to themselves.

NO

  • I can be as nice as I want, but this movie is just not very good.
  • The movie has decent visual effects, but the monster is just not appealing in any way: he’s a blob that swims, with strange characteristics that are never really ever explained.
  • Earnestly made, but just a mess and a movie that never had a shot. Plus, Lucas Till is not a leading man and seemingly has no range in conveying pretty much anything whatsoever.
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