Friendly, oil-guzzling, slug-like monsters from the deep with octopus-like tentacles, and which can instinctively sniff good over evil – if you are a true believer, that is what confronts you in the family film, Monster Trucks.
Teenage loner Tripp (Lucas Till) has always dreamed of escaping his confined life in a sleepy North Dakota town. In a place rich with oil money, Tripp and his mother Cindy (Amy Ryan) struggle to make ends meet, so Tripp takes a job at Mr Weathers’ (Danny Glover’s) junkyard, to collect odds and ends to build a truck. His father (Frank Whaley) left when he was young, so in Tripp’s head if he gets the wheels he’ll be free to go and find his dad. As his preoccupation with his truck grows, his schoolwork and social life begin to suffer. His mother worries about his slipping grades while her boyfriend Rick (Barry Pepper), the local sheriff, grows suspicious of Tripp’s after school activities. Tripp sees Rick as an obstacle and certainly not a father figure. They’re very different people, as reflected in their choice of vehicles.
As Pepper says: “Rick has an immaculate white patrol truck that he’s constantly cleaning. Tripp’s built a dirty old Frankenstein truck from rusty parts. Rick is by the book, and believes in rules. Tripp’s young and rebellious, and wants to test the boundaries Rick and Cindy set for him.”
After an accident at a nearby oil-drilling site displaces a strange subterranean creature with a taste and talent for speed, Tripp may have found the key to getting out of town and a most unlikely friend. Clearly screenwriter Derek Connolly (Jurassic World) has let his imagination go wild in dreaming up this fantasy. With Chris Wedge (Ice Age) at the helm, the result is a comedic and dramatic visual effects pic using state of the art computer generated imagery.
While hardly top-shelf material, Monster Trucks is not without appeal, even if it plays out as one would expect once the good guys and the bad guys are established. It is rather simplistic – told without nuance. The loud engines and big wheels will, no doubt, find favour among budding rev heads. The family first mentality and cheekiness of the “slug” child, which Tripp names “Creech”, is quite endearing. And then there’s the budding romance between bookish classmate Meredith and Tripp – she being far more aware of it than him.
Lucas Till and Jane Levy (both in their mid twenties) looked older than the roles they were meant to be playing, which were high school seniors and that gave me some cause for concern. For all intents and purposes, Till looks and acts like a male model who struggles to smile. Levy’s character is a lot more personable throughout and is clearly attracted to this brooding, bad boy. The get rich mentality of the oil driller – as represented by Rob Lowe, who appears to dial in his single dimensional performance – versus the benefits of conservation come through as an immediate message. Monster Trucks should have greatest appeal to a younger audience, probably children towards the end of primary school or in early high school. Rated PG, it scores a 5½ out of 10.
Director: Chris Wedge
Cast: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Barry Pepper, Amy Ryan, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Thomas Lennon, Holt McCallany
Release Date: 12 January 2017
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television