It’s not entirely clear who Monster Trucks is aimed at. Ostensibly a children’s film, it has a few rather seriously dark moments, and in the end it manages to be a hopelessly ill-conceived mess of a film.
As Monster Trucks opens, evil oil company Terravex is drilling, evilly, for oil in the North Dakota wilderness when its drills reach an underground lake-and-cavern complex. So evil is Terravex that its especially evil executive Tennesen (a moderately evil, and much less startled-looking than usual Rob Lowe, who clearly has been racking up the credit-card balances of late, perhaps having the botox removed, and desperately needs a paycheque to clear them) orders his chief scientists, Jim (Thomas Lennon, looking for all the world like a cut-price Steve Carrell) and the token-female “Junior Scientist” (Aliyah O’Brien, who would do well to make sure that her characters actually have names in future) who is never seen on screen again, to keep on drilling, resulting in the arrival at the surface, by means the film makes absolutely no attempts to explain, of three oil-octopodes later hand-waved off as subterranean amphibians, one of which decides to live in the engine compartment of an old truck being fixed up by Tripp (Lucas Till, who looks far too old to still be in high school), where it appears happy to be exploited by Tripp into acting as its engine (honestly) in return for being fed oil. Evil oil executive’s very evil henchman Burke (Holt McCallany), who could hardly be more one-dimensional if he were a piece of string, tries to recover Creech, as Tripp names, with endless invention and creativity, the oil-octopus, and then destroy them, along with the other two escapees which evil oil company already have in tanks back at the compound.
And it’s bollocks. No, seriously, it is. It’s utter twaddle. Tripp is little more than a pretty boy with unlimited facility with car repairs, but who seems to have no qualms about treating his new-found captor simply as a means of propulsion for his truck, but makes little attempt, until Burke comes sniffing round the junkyard where he works for Mr. Weathers (Danny Glover, who has also, it would appear, fallen on very hard times) looking to dispose of Creech, of returning the thing to its natural habitat, or indeed sharing his new discovery with science, despite the best attempts of Meredith (Jane Levy, whose once promising career may never recover from this) to turn his interests to science, if not to her.
And there’s another thing — Monster Trucks is hopelessly cliché-ridden. The central character — the central human character — is a boy, because if you’re going to have someone work on trucks, it has to be a boy. And the character with the interest in biology is a girl, because, well, biology’s a girls’ science, right? And she’s pretty, and fancies him, but he’s not interested. But he will be — you know he will. And there’s a dorky, chubby lad, because a chubby lad couldn’t possibly be cool, or interesting, but he serves a purpose. And the scientist’s a geeky milquetoast. And Tripp’s being raised by a single mother — a waitress, even — who’s seeing the sheriff, who Tripp can’t stand. Add in Glover’s magical negro friend, and you’ve got a checklist of clichés that Monster Trucks ticks off, all the while forgetting that standard tropes and ciphers are no substitute for a coherent, intelligent story (even in a children’s film), realistic dialogue, fleshed-out characters, or sophisticated acting. Even Levy, who once showed enormous promise as Tessa Altman in Suburgatory and despite out-acting everyone else in the film, can’t save Monster Trucks from its mire of animal cruelty, attempted child-murder and utterly, utterly preposterous and absurd central premise. Don’t see it — please. But if you have to, maybe you can explain what punched the holes in the cars early in the film. If you’re going to flag up a detail so flaggily, director Chris Wedge, you really need to answer your own question. But Wedge clearly didn’t get the package with the “coherent story” lesson in his correspondence school course on how to be a director, so maybe it’s not entirely his fault.
Paramount Studios apparently took a huge hit on Monster Trucks, with reports of the company taking US$115 million write-down. Good.