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movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson

Monster Trucks movie review: what a car-tastrophe

Monster Trucks red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
What if “monster trucks” actually meant — wait for it — that there were monsters in the trucks? From an idea by a four-year-old (really), and it shows.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

What if “monster trucks” actually meant — wait for it — that there were monsters in the trucks? Cute monsters, of course. Nice monsters. (Duh! Nobody likes bad monsters.) The kind of monsters that a boy could be friends with and drive around with and do daring deeds with. Wouldn’t that be cool?

A monster in a truck is the least ridiculous thing amidst a story that is often illogical and morally hugely problematic.
tweet

Apparently — this will shock you — Monster Trucks was developed from an idea by former Paramount president Adam Goodman’s four-year-old son. Seriously. They didn’t actually let the four-year-old write the movie (or so they say), but you’d be hard-pressed to find much evidence for that up on the screen. A monster in a truck is the least ridiculous thing amidst a story that is often illogical in much the same way that a small child can smash and crash toy cars of mismatched scales together with little regard for the likelihood of a Tonka truck being defeated by a Lightning McQueen one-tenth its size. A boy befriending a monster is unobjectionable in itself, but some of what they get up to together is hugely problematic in much the same way that a small child will exhibit total disregard for the needs and indeed even the safety of others when he is having a good time with this toys. (If you’ve ever gotten bonked in the head by an airborne Matchbox car, you know what I’m talking about.)

The Car of Cthulhu.

The Car of Cthulhu.tweet

Hell, it wouldn’t take much to convince me that Monster Trucks was not only written by a four-year-old but directed by one. For one thing, this movie contains one of the most pathetic things I’ve ever seen onscreen, one of the saddest debasements of an actor ever. Lucas Till (X-Men: Apocalypse, Paranoia) is a 26-year-old man — though, to be fair, this movie has been in the can and on the shelf for so long that he was probably only 23 when it was shot — who is required to sit in the cab of the vintage pickup truck that his character is restoring, and pretend to turn the wheel as if driving while making *vroom vroom* noises. Not as a joke. Not to be goofy. But as if this is the deepest, most thrilling fantasy a high-school senior can imagine. (The usually just-about-passable conceit of having an adult actor play a teenager gets pushed to the limit here: another jarring scene has the rather hulking Tripp — that’s his name — looking wildly out of place among a bunch of actual teenagers on a schoolbus.)

Think Transformers Babies. Think E.T. Moves into the Love Bug. And then lower your expectations to a Mac and Me level.tweet This is one of those movies that we overanalytical critics are not supposed to get too worked up about because, you know, for kids. And maybe that excuses the absurd contrived plot about how a North Dakota oil-drilling project unleashes a family of blubbery, tentacly underground sea monsters — a species of megafauna previously undiscovered in many decades of prospecting — that just so happen to take a superquick liking to using monster-truck chassis as wheelchairs. Maybe the “for kids” thing pardons cartoonish oil-company villains — like the one played by Rob Lowe (Sex Tape, The Invention of Lying) — and cartoonishly clueless authority figures — like the sheriff played by Barry Pepper (Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, Kill the Messenger). Maybe the four-year-old mentality of the whole endeavor allows a pass for Meredith (Jane Levy: Evil Dead, Fun Size), a schoolmate of Tripp’s who starts off as rude and bossy (just like a girl!) before melting into a supporting yet chaste girlfriend role (can’t be too careful about cooties). Maybe it’s okay that a major sequence in the film requires a top-secret research facility to study the monsters and yet such lax security that a couple of nosy teenagers can wander in without being noticed. Maybe it’s okay that those teenagers can be away from home for days without any responsible adults appearing to notice.

Monster Trucks How to Train Your Dragon

Nope, no hopes that you will be reminded of better, sweeter boy-and-his-monster movies…tweet

But it’s not cool that the adults actually in charge of Monster Trucks, director Chris Wedge (Epic, Robots) and screenwriter Derek Connolly (Jurassic World), crafted this as a sort of last-gasp romance of American environmental narcissismtweet — yes, we are using up all the oil, try and stop us! — that fetishizes gas-guzzlers. The whole movie is shot like a TV commercial for trucks that make a man a man. (Did you think there was a green message here? There could have been, but there isn’t. The monsters eat oil! You should see the numbers on the pump at the gas station when Tripp pulls in to feed his monster.) It’s not cool that its stars lack any charisma or charm, that the vehicles exhibit more personality than they do… and I don’t even mean the ones with cute monsters inside them. And it’s really not cool that the shenanigans Tripp gets up to with his monster-in-a-truck include some outrageously dangerous driving that puts completely innocent bystanders at risk for their lives and results in massive criminal damage across a wide swath of his small town. (That he also, at one point, acts like police do-not-cross crime-scene tape doesn’t apply to him is a comparatively minor offense.) The movie takes little notice of Tripp’s vandalism except to note how much wacky fun it is.tweet What an adventure!

Monster Trucks appears to have no inkling how utterly inappropriate both its would-be sympathetic human and monster protagonists really are. This would appear to be yet another film from the same darkest timeline/Mirror Universe of Passengers and Collateral Beauty, in which deeply indecent behavior by ostensible heroes is celebrated and rewarded. Because that’s a message kids need to hear?


red light 1 star

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Monster Trucks (2016) | directed by Chris Wedge
US/Can release: Jan 13 2017
UK/Ire release: Dec 26 2016

MPAA: rated PG for action, peril, brief scary images, and some rude humor
BBFC: rated PG (mild threat)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • When I saw this trailer, I assumed that it was based on some line of toys or TV show or something that I’d never heard of because I’m a sophisticated adult.

    So this movie is an original concept? Man, of all the things…..

  • It’s not based on anything except the mind of a four-year-old.

  • RogerBW

    The Axe Cop comic was written by a five-year-old boy and drawn by his big brother. It works well in about five-minute doses.

    Lucas Till, he of the perma-smarm, didn’t have to take the lead in the MacGyver remake. Nobody was holding his family hostage or anything. I have no sympathy for him at all.

    Maybe this is why Hollywood doesn’t make many films with original ideas: nobody involved can actually tell if an idea is any good, so they try to buy them in from pre-screened sources.

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