Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Chris Wedge
Stars: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Rob Lowe, Barry Pepper, Holt McCallany, Amy Ryan, Danny Glover, Frank Whaley.
How to train your subterranean creature?
What if so-called monster trucks were actually powered by monsters that lived inside them? The producers of Monster Trucks have taken a simple concept that apparently sprang from the mind of a four-year-old boy and have worked it into an entertaining quirky throwback to the cinema of the 80s which becomes something of a guilty pleasure by the end. Monster Trucks serves up a variation on the usual tropes of the boy and his pet/friendly creature that changes his life and outlook storyline familiar to audiences through films like ET, Pete’s Dragon, Free Willy, etc.
The film begins when oil company Terravex begins drilling in rural North Dakota. Because they provide most of the jobs and money coming into the area they are almost a power unto themselves and ride roughshod over the locals and their concerns. Even the local sheriff (Barry Pepper) seems cowed by their power. When test drilling a new site the company strikes a hidden subterranean ecosystem, which releases a couple of strange almost prehistoric gelatinous creatures that look like a hybrid between a shark, an octopus and Toothless from the How To Train Your Dragon franchise. While the security team manage to capture two of the creatures and secure them in holding tanks, a third manages to sneak away. It manages to make its way to the junkyard manages by the wheelchair bound Mr Weathers (Danny Glover). There Tripp Coley (played by Lucas Till from the revived version of McGyver) works part time. He is working at restoring an old clapped out truck. The sinuous and oily creature manages to hide inside Tripp’s truck. Tripp befriends the oil guzzling beast and names it Creech. Creech uses his tentacles to power Tripp’s vehicle.
Terravex’s ruthless boss Reece Tenneson (Rob Lowe) wants to destroy the creatures and their environment so the company can keep drilling and make enormous profits. When Tripp learns of the impending destruction of Creech’s home he sets out to try and thwart Tenneson’s plans, with help from the bookish Meredith (Jane Levy, recently seen in the tense thriller Don’t Breathe.) The pair are pursued by Terravex’s heavy handed security team.
Written by four writers, including Derek Connolly, who scripted Jurassic World, the film also works in some strong ecological and environmentally friendly messages. The film is also liberally peppered with corny jokes and plenty of visual humour.
Monster Trucks marks the live action debut for director Chris Wedge, a veteran of animation with the Ice Age series, etc. He maintains a fast pace throughout, and there are a couple of great set pieces throughout. Wedge manages to deftly integrate the CGI creatures into the live action. He also manages to tone down some of the harder edges of the script to make the material more family friendly. However, there are a couple of well-staged and energetic car chases through the streets of the small-town setting that wreak carnage.
And surprisingly the film has managed to attract a strong cast to bring to life the characters. Although likeable enough, Till seems a little too old to convincingly play the 17-year-ol protagonist at the centre of the action. Till and Levy develop a good chemistry as the film progresses that overcomes their early awkward encounters. Thomas Lennon brings a dry humour to his role as Dowd, a spineless scientist who wrestles with his conscience when he discovers the intelligence of these strange creatures from the deep, and he finally comes to the aid of Tripp and Meredith and Creech. Lowe plays the oily villain well, and the role of the nasty head of Terravex’s security force is a familiar one from Holt McCallany (recently seen in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, etc). Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan, etc) makes the most of his role as the overly officious local sheriff who butts heads with Tripp but eventually has a change of attitude as well. Amy Ryan contributes a cameo as Tripp’s mother, while Glover has a warm presence and it’s good to see him on the screen.
High in concept, but a little silly, Monster Trucks is a throwback to those 80s films like Short Circuit, *Batteries Not Included, and will appeal to the inner child in us all. However, it is nowhere near as enduring or as endearing as classics of that era such as ET, The Goonies or Gremlins.