Movies may not change, but tastes in movies do. Sometimes you’ll love a movie when you first see it, only to be disappointed with it years later. Other times, you may find a movie doesn’t whet your whistle when you first see it, but your tune changes for the better when you stumble upon it on TV. One major example of the latter is Drop Dead Fred, a movie I loathed when I first saw it, but thanks to a little sister who couldn’t get enough of it, the more I watched it, the more it latched onto my marrow and bled my resistance like a tick, until I couldn’t get enough of its wild breed of insanity.
A more recent example — and less dramatic — is the 2007 buddy road trip movie, Wild Hogs. On first viewing, I thought the humor felt a little worn and the characters were just going through the motions. There was nothing inherently bad about the film, but nothing stood out enough to really grab my attention either. Fast forward a few years and while catching a scene or two here and there on cable, the film has grown on me. The jokes seem to land better with repeat viewings and the bonds between characters is much deeper than I remember when I originally saw it.
For whatever the reason, I can see this same scenario happening with the new kids film, Monster Trucks. On the outset, the movie is unable to find any time to build a strong foundation in plot or character, and plays it as safe as it can when it comes to the world it creates. At the same time, the movie is enjoyably meaningless, a combination that could lead to me warming up to it should I ever catch it again on the boob tube.
Tripp (Lucas Till) is a seemingly lonely high school senior with a penchant for both destroying and fixing cars. His father (Frank Whaley) left him and his mom (Amy Ryan) for some unknown reason and his mom’s boyfriend, Rick (Barry Pepper), the sheriff in their quaint middle-America town, constantly butt heads with him — again, for no apparent reason. The one friend he has, Sam (Tucker Albrizzi) is only a friend when Tripp needs help with something, because I don’t see the two (one a hunky brooder, the other a lackey nerd) forming any type of friendship based on the end of the film… not the best example for impressionable kids. Then there’s the love interest, Meredith (Jane Levy), another relationship that’s sort of a non-starter, as it begins with hardly any build-up whatsoever. It’s just kind of there and never really evolves.
His life gets turned upside-down when an oil company (which has basically paid off the town in order to drill on the land by Reece Tenneson, your typical ruthless oil baron oddly played by the Grinder… I mean, Rob Lowe) hits a pocket of water that unleashes a trio of creatures from within the depths of the earth’s crust. Two of them are captured right away by Reece and his scientific companion, Jim Dowd (Thomas Lennon), who quickly discovers how intelligent they are and how they communicate with one another.
The third somehow hides inside of a truck that’s destroyed during the melee and is towed to the local junk yard where Tripp works. When the pair discover one another, both are reasonably frightened at first, but quickly bond when they discover that neither is out to harm the other. All the creature (which Tripp names Creech) wants is food (in this case, gallons of oil) and all Tripp wants is a friend — wait. That’s wrong. All Tripp wants is a truck that will carry him out of town once school is over, which means, much like Sam, the creature is used by Tripp to get what he wants.
One of the major issues I have with the film — and this is an issue that a lot of kids films have — is that there are no repercussions for the protagonists. When Reece sics his corporate goons onto the world to find Creech so that they can kill the whole lot and keep from having the oil field shut down, Tripp tweaks out an old truck he’s been working on so that Creech can become the engine. At one point, he feeds Creech gasoline from a gas station, which, with all of its additives, causes him to get high. In the course of his acid trip, he crushes various cars in a used car lot as if he was a monster truck in a sports arena. The scene is meant to be funny, but plays like a cartoon.
Creech is also setup to be an extremely smart character, but at times it feels as if he’s a little too smart. Director Chris Wedge doesn’t spend enough time with Tripp and Creech at the beginning to warrant the friendship they build to the point where the two basically understand the other without being able to speak. It could be because of some type of psychic connection the two have, or maybe it’s just a convenient way for the director to make a lot of the movie work. The point is, it goes to show the lack of character development that kept me from feeling any sense of justice when the good guys triumph and the bad guys find their comeuppance. One set of characters in particular, the requisite bully that doesn’t do anything to warrant that title except have an extravagant truck and his girlfriend who may or may not have a crush on Tripp, are treated like nothing but glorified extras who the director uses to elicit manufactured drama (and laughs).
With all of that said, the special effects are serviceable, the action sequences well done, and Creech is a likeable little alien slug who deserves more than this selfish kid that doesn’t think much about anyone but himself. I’m not sure Tripp has learned any lessons from his adventures with Creech by the end, and believing that the relationship with the too-nice Meredith is going to be anything but a failure is foolish. But there’s something about the film that lingers… something that sparks an interest and makes me feel as if I’m wrong about the film. Who knows; maybe some day I’ll see Monster Trucks again and find it far better than I remember when I first watched it. But until then, all I can say is the movie isn’t great, nor is it bad. It’s simply a harmless piece of family entertainment.
My Grade: B
Next week, new movies include xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, Split and The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.