Monster Trucks review: A preposterous premise that proves just about roadworthy

Blessed with low expectations, Chris Wedge’s kids’ yarn turns out to be not as monstrous as feared

Looking for “something with four wheels that will get me out of this place”: Lucas Till in Monster Trucks

Film Title: MONSTER TRUCKS

Director: Chris Wedge

Starring: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Barry Pepper, Amy Ryan, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Cinta Laura, Thomas Lennon, Holt McCallany

Genre: Family

Running Time: 105 min

Mon, Dec 26, 2016, 06:00

   

What if monster trucks had real live monsters in them? This remarkably idiotic idea has been developed into a movie by one-time studio president Adam Goodman at the behest of his then four-year-old son. What could possibly go wrong?

Last September, Viacom, the parent company of Paramount Pictures, revised its earnings-per-share expectations to account for “a programming impairment charge of $115 million in its filmed entertainment segment in its fiscal fourth quarter related to the expected performance of an unreleased film”. I’m not an economics graduate, but I believe this jargon translates as “Monster Trucks will put us out of house and home”.

With low, low expectations in mind, the film is not utterly atrocious. A workaday mash-up of ET and Transformers, its messy central conceit makes you wonder what that four-year-old was smoking, but it’s still a marked improvement on the most recent Transformers films.

Lucas Till, TV’s new MacGyver, plays Tripp, a small-town teen who dreams of owning “something with four wheels that will get me out of this place”. When Tripp isn’t dodging his very keen biology study partner, Meredith (Jane Levy) or his sheriff stepdad (Barry Pepper), he’s tinkering with engines over at Danny Glover’s junkyard. It’s there that he encounters a strange, oil-guzzling creature, an entity that has been accidentally excavated by an evil fracking-happy oil tycoon (Rob Lowe).

Creech, as Tripp unimaginatively dubs the monster, soon makes a pick-up truck his home.

“It’s like the truck is a wheelchair for him,” observes Meredith.

“No, it’s like he’s the engine for my truck,” replies Tripp.

Neither description adequately explains the symbiosis between beast and automobile, nor can this film reconcile its competing impulses to both demonise fossil fuels and fetishise burning rubber.    

Still, as a kids’ film – as opposed to a family film – this just about proves roadworthy. The truck-heavy stunt sequences ensure the action does not descend into CGI goop. The monster is cute. The supporting cast are mostly Proper Actors, if glimpsed only fleetingly. (Amy Ryan seems to get 3.7 seconds of screen time.) Till and Levy are charming, even if the latter is often stuck with “Oh my” reaction shots.  

It’s odd to find what looks like a wannabe summer blockbuster nestled between such Xmas films as Why Him? and Office Christmas Party. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Monster Trucks has been subject to various delays, but it’s much better than the “programming impairment” we were expecting.