MONSTER TRUCKS is a silly film. Taking its title very literally, it’s the kind of high-concept fantasy that almost belongs to another era, one that fully embraces the silliness. Sitting somewhere in the space between Transformers and last year’s Pete’s Dragon, it also marks the first time Chris Wedge (Ice Age, Epic) has helmed a live action film. Well, mostly live action.
In a plot that’s not so far removed from the last Transformers entry (a Transforumla if you will), Tripp Coley (Lucas Till) yearns to bust free of his one horse town, but doesn’t have a car. When the local oil-drilling concern’s greedy excavation ignores signs of life deep below the surface, they unleash a creature that finds its way into Tripp’s truck. Acting as a living engine, Tripp and his ‘Creech’ – together with new friend Meredith (Jane Levy) – are soon on the run from the oily oilmen and the police.
On one hand, MONSTER TRUCKS makes an effort at being a big budget pro-environment action film for kids. The evil corporation Terravex, led by all-but-moustache-twirling Rob Lowe, doesn’t care about the ecosystem. While conservative groups might label this anti-corporate, the rest of the film is a giant toy box filled with things that gurgle and vroom, filling the frame with glory shots of trucks racing across fields. Hollywood legend tells us that the film was inspired by film president Adam Goodwin’s conversations with his four-year-old son, and it shows.
While it’s actually refreshing to have something so unabashedly kid friendly, problems creep in from the huge amount of money thrown at the thin concept. ‘Creech’ is an all-CG creation that sucks up much of the budget, but as a friendly style that’s somewhere between How to Train Your Dragon‘s Toothless and a cephalopod. Combined with some impressively staged chase sequences, this is pure eye-candy for the kiddies, and mostly those that are fond of playing with miniature versions of the real thing.
The mostly talented cast are mostly wasted on the material. Direct-to-video king Till is actually a likeable lead, even if his role could be substituted by any young actor in Hollywood. Levy’s impressive comedy chops go unused, spending the first half of the film pining for Tripp before being sidelined by a red truck. Golden Globe nominees Amy Ryan and Barry Pepper, as Tripp’s parental units, are entirely perfunctory. Danny Glover, wheelchair bound and given about three lines in the entire picture, feels like he wandered onto the set and Wedge decided to keep him.
Ultimately a pastiche of other tried-and-true films, MONSTER TRUCKS taps in the same current that makes Pixar’s Cars series a success. While anybody old enough to actually hold a drivers licence may find the thrill of driving a car with a monster engine less appealing, but if your Venn diagrams intersect where childlike glee meets motor oil, then this is the flick for you.