Paramount Pictures’ latest release Monster Trucks is based on an idea by former studio president Adam Goodman’s then 4-year-old son: that is, what if monster trucks had real monsters in them? This would be a cute story, if the film had any depth or guts to sustain this central idea for its 104 minute running time. While the film does have some superficial charm and moments of good-natured fun, it isn’t enough for this dated, under-cooked concept to really take off.
If you’re over the age of 12, there’s little chance of me spoiling this film for you because you’ve probably already seen a film like it: a boy, struggling to deal with life and an absent father, finds purpose and adventure when he forms an unlikely friendship with a displaced, other-worldly creature.
In this case, the fatherless boy is Tripp (Lucas Till), a high school student who lives with his mother and her boyfriend, the town sheriff. To escape his problems, he works at a junkyard run by Danny Glover, where he scavenges for parts for the pickup truck he is trying to get up and running. Meanwhile, an accident at a nearby oil-drilling site displaces as yet undiscovered subterranean creatures from the depths of the earth. Tripp forms a bond with one of the creatures, which he nicknames Creech, and soon discovers that Creech has a taste for crude oil and a talent for speed. Soon the authorities come after the creature, and Tripp sets off on a mission to return Creech to its family and home. Accompanying him on this mission is Meredith (Jane Levy), an intelligent classmate who has a desperate crush on Tripp.
First of all, let me state the obvious: Lucas Tripp. Does. Not. Look. Like. A. High. School. Student. Yes, it’s been over a decade since I was in
hell high school, but no. Just, no. He also treats Jane Levy’s character Meredith appallingly. I know teenage crushes can be cringe worthy, but it’s troubling to watch a film aimed at children in which a smart, ambitious young woman pines over a guy who doesn’t take any interest in her until she becomes useful to him. If, in writing the screenplay, the writers were trying to be progressive in the depiction of a “smart” heroine, they fall short of achieving this by giving her little agency. To be fair, none of the characters in this film are particularly well drawn. The film has a decent cast (including Oscar nominee Amy Ryan), but they’re not given much to do.
There are definitely moments of fun, and the car chases and 3D animation will keep kids entertained. Creech, the monster in the truck, can be pretty cute and the 3D animation is done well.
The film appears to be trying to push a message of being mindful of the environment, but this is undermined by the fascination and romanticisation of gas-guzzling, fossil-fuel-dependent monster trucks.
Monster Trucks is trying to be throwback to the classic kid-befriends-creature films and of 80s and 90s, like ET: The ExtraTerrestrial, Gremlins and Free Willy, but unfortunately it’s a bit of a lemon.
Image source: Paramount Pictures