How do you kill a movie before its release? Two words: This January.
It really is that simple. January movies are DBA (Dead Before Arrival). The best any movie can do about it is be honest. Monster Trucks is nothing if not honest. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect it to be: it’s a movie about a monster that lives inside a truck. No more, no less.
I think this is one of those movies where it’s good to temper your expectations with the facts. You’ve got a director versed in animation making a live-action debut. A release date that’s been pushed not once, not twice, but seven times. A title that’s a giant pun. And a studio that took a $115M write-down before the movie’s release. Oh yeah, and it’s coming out in January. Yikes…
So, if you’re still willing to see Monster Trucks, either you know exactly what you’re getting into (like me) or you’re an absolute schmuck (also like me). And if you see it with all this in mind, you might be surprised just how inoffensive and forgettable Monster Trucks is.
“He likes hiding in my truck.”
So here’s my guess with how Monster Trucks came about. All the executives at Paramount are sitting in a room, pitching ideas for the next big Nickelodeon family comedy. It’s been a decade since Nickelodeon made anything of relevance or merit, so this next movie has to hit the mark! Everyone’s scratching heads and chins, furrowing their brows. Absolute silence. Then “I got it! Monster Trucks!” Everyone turns to the speaker. “Kids like monsters, kids like trucks, just put em’ together!” A new kind of silence falls over the room. They all turn to then Paramount President Adam Goodman. He utters what everyone in the room has spent hours of brainstorming waiting to hear, an unenthusiastic but approving “Eh” accompanied by a shrug. The room erupts with applause. That, or this was all the idea of then Paramount President Adam Goodman’s four-year-old child. Either one wouldn’t surprise me.
It’s pretty clear the producers, director, and writers knew exactly what they were doing with a title like Monster Trucks. Everything that happens in the film is a means to fulfill this hamfisted pun. What they do to explain the whole idea of “monster trucks” has creative elements and makes logical sense (for the tone of the film at least). The trouble is that all the elements of the film are so serviceable to the idea that everything surrounding it is shorthand for actual characters and story. The rebellious outcast dealing with a new father figure. The corrupt businessman who has no respect for the environment. The ferocious monster with puppy dog eyes.
“I really hope they have their seat belts on.”
When Monster Trucks isn’t trying to justify its title. It’s trying to be a this E.T. / Free Willy / Iron Giant hybrid. It’s that story of the kid from a broken home that makes sense of his situation through an encounter with a strange yet lovable creature. Even though I’ve seen this story many times over – and the kid doesn’t look as much like a kid as he does a 26-year old man – I know there’s a reason I keep coming back to it. The boy and his dog is a naturally endearing story, and from the relationship between Tripp (Lucas Till) and Creech, the oil guzzling subterranean squid monster, I think the people behind Monster Trucks recognized that too. Out of all the connections between Monster Trucks‘ characters, the only one that feels – and looks (CG) – believable is the bond between Tripp and Creech.
Everything else is just your standard fare, but that’s really all you can expect. There’s nothing impressive about Monster Trucks, but when it’s as lightweight and fluffy as it is, that’s more than acceptable. At the very least, I was never annoyed. It’s full of cliches, yes, but they’re likable cliches. Or at least, cliches from movies I like. And with some brief instances of inspiration, it’s not a snore. I know this review comes off defensive, but it’s really just to say that of all the January slop we’re being served, Monster Trucks is hardly a film worth reeling over. Unless you work at Paramount.
My Rating: 6/10