One has to admire the sheer audacity behind Paramount’s injudicious Monster Trucks. Conceived by a studio executive’s four-year-old son (no joke), it’s a buddy sci-fi action-comedy where a guileless-yet-stubborn-and-moody small-town loner teen/car aficionado named Tripp, played by a fully-grown 26-year-old Lucas Till, stumbles upon a recently-unearthed subterranean squid-like creature named Creech, whom he quickly befriends. Their unusual companionship is formed from Creech’s unquenchable thirst for oil and its perplexing desire to live inside his engine-less beat-up truck, which Tripp can drive by pedaling, steering and controlling his squishy newfound acquaintance. It’s a loopy, baffling film, and an easy source of ridicule. It also doesn’t help that the studio behind it took down a $115 million write-down months before its release. It is as unloved as it is asinine — and it’s very asinine. But that, in a way, is what gives it a zany shaggy dog quality.
You see, Monster Trucks has no real reason to exist. At all. Yeah, I’m sure you can say that for most movies, especially these days, but this one’s existence in particular, which serves as the live-action debut of Oscar-winning animation director Chris Wedge (Ice Age), seems especially egregious in its actuality. Honestly, who in their right mind writes a $125 million check for this nonsense? Who would possibly believe — at any point in time — that this is a story that deserves to exist, and that it needs to be told in its blockbuster fashion? It shouldn’t surprise many of you to know that the executive who greenlit this one supposedly no longer works for Paramount. Preposterous and entirely inane, this investment fiasco is the kind of clear-sighted catastrophe that deserves to be dissected and examined in its dumbfounding conception, creation and finalization. It premieres like a pre-wrapped present for bad movie lovers, and its piss-soaked name will be prominent in their lexicon for decades, maybe even longer. But to be honest, it’s not all that bad. Really.
Here’s the deal with Monster Trucks: it’s a phenomenally silly, stupid movie. It has no pretensions about itself whatsoever, nor does it consider itself high art in the slightest. Does that make it good? Not necessarily, but it makes it more enjoyable and appealing than you might think. With every ill-conceived molecule in its motorized, tentacled body, it wants to rouse in the inner child in you, or the actual child sitting next to you. It’s all about having fun and letting loose in its maddening execution, and it’s not entirely unsuccessful in that regard. It’s an easy watch — perhaps even a comfortable watch — and, at its best, it’s a gleeful one too. Like a child, it has no regard for logic, sense or plausibility; it’ll all about being cool to that wide-eyed tyke bedazzled at the screen, not matter how utterly ludicrous and nonsensical it can be in its relaxed 104-minute runtime. It’s oddly self-aware.
For that little pipsqueak, this goofy, bewildering film might honestly rock their still-developing world. Like Good Burger or Snow Day for earlier generations, any enjoyment they’ll find in it later in life will be laced with nostalgia and cloudy memories, but they’ll likely treasure it all the same. If that’s the case, then I welcome Monster Trucks onto them. Goodness knows, there are many terrible kiddie flicks out there that I can’t help but love (almost) unconditionally based on their connections to my youth, and Monster Trucks won’t have trouble ramming its way into the pure, innocent hearts of a few like-minded children of modern day. It’s friendly and approachable, completely-bizarre-but-kinda charming in its own senseless way. I can’t necessarily recommend it, but to trash it mercilessly is like spitting in the kitten’s adorable face. It just seems cruel. There’s too much needless cruelty.
Though it’s wonky, wobbly and completely weird, like your dad’s beaten-up truck, it gets to its destination in bumpy fashion. The route might be predictable, clunky and devoid of intelligence or reason, but it’s not a boring travel. Rather, it’s an inspired, slaphappy one, and one that surprisingly — and sometimes endearingly — feels like a blast from the past. Like the stupid, overzealous adolescent-centered titles from the ’80s, ’90s and early ’00s, like The Peanut Butter Solution, Little Monsters, A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, Clockstoppers and, of course, Space Jam, it’s a high-concept, low-balling bonkers-fest with a bubbly attitude, happy-go-lucky mentality and devil-may-care grin strapped to its face. It’s eager to please, and it’s quick to disregard reasonable filmmaking metrics, but that’s sometimes what it makes it simple and straightforward to enjoy.
The premise is basically E.T. meets The Water Horse by way of Smokey and the Bandit, and it accepts the unburdened chance to relish in its delusional optimism quite often. It’s not a film made for condensing adults, snotty teenagers or baffled senior citizens. It’s made for that redneck six-year-old who wants to see an absolutely ridiculous plot about a literal monster truck unfold before him/her on the big screen. They’ll likely be bouncing up-and-down in their seats the whole time, and they’ll find a lot to love here. Everyone else will have to steer clear, because they’ll likely just end up puzzled and mystified by it all. This is not a movie made for those in the double digits.
The creature design for Creech is somewhere between cute and just plain ugly. The toothy, floppy, bubbler-y biology blunder isn’t necessarily beautiful by any normal convention, but there’s something about its enthusiastic smile and sincere, sparkingly red peepers that’s hard to outright dismiss. It ain’t pretty on the eye, but it can sometimes slip into your heart. The CG used to bring it to awkward life isn’t that bad either. It’s cartoony, but in a good way, and the fact that it’s superimposed onto every single frame isn’t quite as distracting as one might rightfully assume.
Additionally, the supporting cast here is surprisingly well-rounded. Rob Lowe, Thomas Lennon, Amy Ryan, Barry Pepper, Frank Whaley and Danny Glover all provide their acting services to this movie mistake, and most of them are wasted more than they’re not. Almost every character is underwritten or there to tide the nonsense, and they all should’ve been used wiser or better. But the one that really, truly stands out is Jane Levy, an adorable ray of sunshine that positively lightens the screen with her warm presence. She brings so much life and personality to each of her poorly-handled lines; it’s a shame that she wasn’t the lead over blandly handsome Till. She gives Monster Trucks a sweetness and cheeriness that’s deeply appreciated and often needed. She’s a young talent that should hopefully go far in this crazy world of ours, one that hosts Monster Trucks inside.
Monster Trucks isn’t necessarily the astonishing disaster promised by the marketing team, nor is it anywhere near a good film. Discarded and forsaken, Wedge’s wacky, ill-conceived predisposed failure isn’t the awful trash that one would (rightfully) like to believe. Rather, it’s a strangely cuddly, completely crazy kids film with a lot of drive, infrequent bouts of earnestness and a commendable amount of heart. Those who want to go in ready to delight in its mistaken germination might not get the full-fledged flounder they anticipate. Its kookiness is weirdly captivating, believe it or not, and you sometimes find yourself caught up in its pumped-up adrenaline. It’s a monstrous clunker, but not a disinteresting one. It doesn’t go far, but at the same time, it’s not the worst ride in the world. This movie isn’t going to be appreciated anytime soon, but it doesn’t deserve to be venomously hated either. Rather, it’s a seductive car crash that you can’t help but admire.