FILM REVIEW – MONSTER TRUCKS. With Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover. Written by Derek Connolly. Directed by Chris Wedge. Rated PG for action, peril, brief scary images, and some rude humor. 104 minutes.
Director Chris Wedge, best known for animated movies like “Ice Age” and “Robots,” switches to live action for MONSTER TRUCKS. Well, mostly live action. The monsters are all CGI and the script is about as sophisticated as a cartoon, at least the sort of cartoons Wedge has done.
Tripp (Lucas Till) is a teenager in a small town in North Dakota (played by the Canadian province of British Columbia) who is fed up with his life. He can’t afford a truck. His parents are divorced. He works part-time at a junkyard where he scrounges for parts. And he’s pestered by Meredith (Jane Levy), another student who is supposed to be tutoring him in biology. Even worse, his mother (Amy Ryan) has taken up with the town’s sheriff (Barry Pepper).
Meanwhile, an evil oil company executive (Rob Lowe)–and is there any other kind?–is overseeing drilling operations outside of town when it becomes clear that a huge deposit of oil and water underground may be inhabited by previously unknown creatures. When three of them emerge, two are captured by the company but the third gets away, ending up at… yes, the junkyard. Have you seen this already?
The huge, toothy, multi-tentacled creature seems scary at first, but Tripp soon becomes friends with the one he imaginatively names “Creech,” discovering that it lives on oil. When the bad guys employed by the oil company come poking around, Creech hides in the monster truck Tripp has been building and turns it into a vehicle that can go high speeds, climb walls, and even race across roofs.
From hereon out it’s the good guys–who include the junkyard owner (Danny Glover) and a scientist with the company who goes rogue (Thomas Lennon)–versus the bad guys, trying to prevent the lovable, innocent monsters from being killed. Oh, and Tripp and Meredith fall for each other and he’s reconciled with his potential step-dad. Should there be spoiler alerts here?
This is a movie that apparently required four writers to concoct a plot that could have been planned on the back of an envelope (which was actually developed by one-time studio president Adam Goodman with the help of his then-4-year-old son). There are a number of talented actors inexplicably choosing to add this to their résumés, with a paycheck or perhaps young children in the family being the explanations. And that latter point is the only real one about this utterly disposable film.
While the effects are technically impressive and delayed the completion of the film by nearly two years, it was to tell a cartoonish story that will only succeed if seen through a child’s eyes. Little kids, particularly those who like playing with toy cars and trucks, will not have seen this story a hundred times (unless they’ve been watching “E.T.” over and over) and so will be caught up in the adventure.
“Monster Trucks” is a more about commerce than art, but for parents wanting to find something to do with their kids on a wintry afternoon, it will do the trick.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released in next month. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.