Some of you may remember that 2017 didn’t quite start off all that well, and the release that summarised all of the gloom was this slice of baffling imagery only known as “Monster Trucks”. Now that it has hit home release to the sound of no fanfare whatsoever, I can no longer ignore it. But… is there a surprise result on the table ?
Well actually yes, to some extent. The story of an oil company digging too greedily and too deep, unearthing three subterranean monsters and one escaping, has a real SyFy vibe to the set up. Not just from feeling a tad contrived and cheap, but also taking a previously used idea and going totally insane with it. A high school kid comes across the slobbering grey monster, with the surprise that even though it is utterly useless on land, once part of the pickup truck, can move about like Cthulhu in a Mech. And from there, adventures begin!
Now this comes from Nickelodeon Studios, who have a very chequered past injected with some brilliant releases like “Rango”, but also complete turds like “The Last Airbender”. Monster Trucks seems like a story that if animated, would have appeared quite good on paper. Think “The Iron Giant” blended with a dash of Transformers – silly, but maybe a fun project. The decision to make it a CG live-action release may have hurt the affairs quite a lot though, since despite the budget, the effects for the monsters are pretty dreadful. It was like they were aiming for the Rubber Suit effect, which if they were, umm…. they got that.
The story line itself is one that is pretty devoid of twists and turns, you have a stuck-in-a-rut teenager, his unexpected partner and interest, an evil company, a hapless local police force, crazy antics with the monster, and set pieces designed to move the plot from one location to the next. I mean, most of it isn’t really bad or anything, just kind of a low bar being set by the creators. Predictable.
So, you’re probably wondering how on Earth a movie sounding so ordinary manages to redeem itself in some respects? The thing is that despite how dumb it all looks initially, they do seem to be putting in some effort to make it work. The kid and the monster develop a relationship that gives a little weight to what is happening. The way in which the monster can power the truck is even set up, and you have some insight into why it is such a benefit for him. (or.. her, that isn’t explained) But when you see the truck roaring down a road with what looks like a giant squid nailed to the chassis, as well as it looking ridiculous I found myself saying “Huh… kind of clever”. Especially when the truck can me manoeuvred into doing some crazy stunts that yes, I did find pretty cool.
Every now and then the comedy works too. Don’t get me wrong, you have to look pretty hard to find it since most of the dialogue is very standard, but it’s there. More than anything else the film has quite a problem taking all the emotional inputs from the various characters, and having them pay off by the end. The kid’s mom barely shows up at all for example. And yet it could have gone in far worse directions with the character development.
It was almost surreal that at the end, when I had initially expected to just shrug and fling the disc out the window in boredom, I found that I had enjoyed it in parts if not in entirety. The first 30 minutes or so are pretty rough and slow, but it was worth it for the final act when you do see some of the cool shit that would have looked great in an animated piece. There’s quite a lot in “Monster Trucks” that is sub-par or a bit rubbish, but I had gone into it expecting NOTHING. I left realising that it had easily beaten off worse films I had seen this year. I have to laugh at myself when I say that, and then look at the goofy poster.
Thoughts? Good family film, and not as bad as you’ll be expecting, but just know that it is very rough around the edges.
Thanks for reading!