Starring: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Barry Pepper, Thomas Lennon, Danny Glover, Rob Lowe
Director: Chris Wedge
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Rating: PG for Mild Supernatural Danger
Release Date: January 13, 2017
Have you guys seen the poster for Monster Trucks? I mean, have you seen it?!
A quiet squid-like creature from the bottom of a lake wanders into a junkyard, where he practically becomes an automobile-fish hybrid as he finds shelter in the monster truck built by high school senior Tripp (Lucas Till). This could very easily be the setup for a horror movie in the vein of Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the character design of the squid-thing (dubbed “Creech” by Tripp) is kind of disturbing: long gooey tentacles and a full set of sharp, ever-present teeth. Plus, he subsists on oil, which suggests a sort of Chekhov’s Flammability that is commented upon but never delivered.
But this is indeed a Nickelodeon movie and not a classic Universal monster movie, and it bears the hallmarks of many a kids movie. There are the adults playing teenagers (Till is 26 and could pass for 30, while his tutor/love interest Jane Levy actually makes for a convincing high schooler even though she’s a year older), which is especially exacerbated by all the age-appropriate extras. There is the evil corporation whose actions set the creature loose in the first place and practically owns the whole town. There is the absentee father, plus an authority figure (Barry Pepper as Sheriff Rick) serving as Mom’s (Amy Ryan) new boyfriend. And of course there is the whole “boy and his pet” vibe between Tripp and Creech, with E.T. as a clear supernatural precedent.
Monster Trucks is worth watching if you ironically or genuinely appreciate all entries in this genre, and this particular example is due to spark unusual enthusiasm because that poster image of CreechTruck is just so striking. Does the film live up to that promise? Yes, but only in fits and starts. This is basically Fast and the Furious, Jr., and thus there are a few transcendently gravity-defying moments of Creech and his crew flying through the air. But there is weirdly little time spent freaking out over how strange this whole situation is. Most characters accept Creech’s existence remarkably quickly, which is frankly a sign of maturity. And in fact this movie is rather adult in a lot of ways. That is true in terms of the good (the acting is strong across the board – Levy is her typical delightful self, half of Thomas Lennon’s career is as a ringer in assembly line crap, and Rob Lowe is perfect, though underutilized, as the face of corporate evil), the bad (Creech has as much of a knack for collateral structural damage as any superhero), and the underwhelming, which this not-bizarre-enough head-scratcher all too often is.
Monster Trucks is Recommended If You Like: The Fast and Furious series but wish it were more kid-friendly, Mac and Me, the Evil Dead remake
Grade: 2.5 out 5 Twentysomethings Playing Teenagers