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"MONSTER TRUCKS"
(2017) (Lucas Till, Jane Levy) (PG)


Read Our Full Content Movie Review for Parents

QUICK TAKE:
Fantasy/Adventure: A teen tries to keep a newly discovered species of animal safe from oil executives who want it destroyed to protect their drilling site.
PLOT:
Tripp (LUCAS TILL) is a teenager who's unhappily living in a small North Dakota town with his mom, Cindy (AMY RYAN), and her sheriff boyfriend, Rick (BARRY PEPPER). With little interest in school or a classmate, Meredith (JANE LEVY), who's obviously attracted to him, Tripp spends most of his time in a junkyard owned by Mr. Weathers (DANNY GLOVER) trying to rebuild an old truck. His life gets upended when a large, never-before-seen creature -- that has the head of a shark and something akin to a walrus body and octopus tentacles -- ends up there hungry for oil. It and two others of its kind were released from their subterranean world by the far-reaching oil drilling efforts of Terravex Energy.

That company essentially runs the town, and the big boss, Reece Tenneson (ROB LOWE), has his lead scientist, Jim Dowd (THOMAS LENNON), try to figure out what the creatures are, having captured two of them. But as oil means money, he's less interested in their nature than he is in keeping the discovery secret, knowing if word gets out, the lucrative drilling site will be shut down. Accordingly, he has his top enforcer goon, Burke (HOLT McCALLANY), out on the hunt to find the creature.

Tripp has other ideas, though, when he learns that this friendly critter -- that he's now nicknamed Creech -- loves the truck he's rebuilding and can essentially serve as its engine, what with its tentacles able to spin both axles and provide both horsepower and torque. With Meredith joining him, he then sets out to keep his new pet out of harm's way, all while Burke and his men try to find and capture the creature.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
For nearly twenty years straight and until we got our own beach place closer by, our family traveled with friends for a week of vacation at North Carolina's Outer Banks. And many of those years featured the familiar sight of a super-sized pickup truck named Grave Digger that sat out in front of Diggers Dungeon on Rt. 158.

Seemingly designed to drive through unplowed, blizzard covered roads thanks to the gargantuan tires and ultra-high suspension, the uniquely named vehicle (certainly not as friendly as, say, Herbie the Love Bug) apparently was one of the first and most famous so-called monster trucks. You know, the kind that performs at events bounding over dirt bumps, ramps and such while landing on parked, much smaller vehicles.

I've never witnessed such a spectacle in person, but realize they're fairly popular. And thus I wasn't that surprised to hear that a "Days of Thunder" sort of film about them -- the appropriately titled "Monster Trucks" -- was being made. What's that? It's not about that sport and the drivers who pilot such beasts?

Oh, okay. With the mega success of the "Transformers" movies, it should come as no surprise that we now have a spinoff featuring evil, shape-shifting pickups that have attacked Earth with only Megan Fox standing in their way -- natch, in skintight attire -- of world domination. No? That's not it either?

You're kidding, right? It's about a previously unknown subterranean species that's unearthed by oil drilling in North Dakota where said critters literally become the engines of trucks, all while playing off the old "boy and his dog" sort of storytelling?

Reportedly concocted by the then four-year-old son of a studio executive and much later fleshed out into a screenplay by scribe Derek Connolly ("Jurassic World"), the film is trying to be a throwback reimagining of "E.T." complete with a bunch of menacing bad guys who want to capture the "alien" and do bad things to him.

Alas, the engaging, captivating and magical qualities of Steven Spielberg's 1982 classic are few and far in between in this offering helmed by director Chris Wedge ("Ice Age," "Robots"). Sure, children in the age range of the aforementioned "story by" kid might find it enormously entertaining and unique (for not having enough viewed films in their already watched repertoire). Older kids and certainly adults, though, won't find much reason to phone home about this offering.

The story revolves around a high school student (Lucas Till looking far too old for the part let alone having to play pretend driving an engine-less truck, complete with vocal sound effects) who isn't happy living in his small, North Dakota town with his single mom (Amy Ryan) who's dating the local sheriff (Barry Pepper) who doesn't look highly on the boy. The teen doesn't even seem interested in a pretty classmate (Jane Levy) who's obviously attracted to him.

He's in need of a friend and that figure arrives in the form of "Creech," an odd amalgamation of parts from other animals (a shark-like head, a walrus type body and large octopus like tentacles fitted together via less than convincing special effects) that arrives courtesy of the drilling efforts of Terravex Energy. With his corporate goon (Holt McCallany) having captured two other such underground creatures, the "we can't shut down the drill site over some new species discovery because that will mean less cash flow" big boss (Rob Lowe) wants Creech captured and destroyed, much to the growing concern of his lead scientist (Thomas Lennon) who realizes these animals are intelligent.

But we already know that, having seen the big puppy dog (er, sharwalrupus) figure out how to propel Tripp's engineless truck by generating torque on the axles while occupying the space under the hood. All of which eventually allows for a number of vehicle-based chase scenes and an attempt to get the creatures back home before the evil corporate dudes can get back to bathing in their black gold, Texas tea.

While the hammered home lesson is that big oil is bad and human-animal bonds are good, the bigger one to remember is to never make a movie -- especially with one featuring a production budget in the nine figures range -- based on the imagination of a preschooler. If only Grave Digger had spent less time near the east coast beach rather than out west burying this idea to keep it from growing into "Monster Trucks." The film rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed January 7, 2017 / Posted January 13, 2017


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