We’ve come yet again to the dreary movie world of January, a month in which studios attempt to pawn off third-rate movies as entertainment.
With holiday blockbusters and Oscar-bait films still dominating the conversation, the new films that come out are generally of such poor quality that they’re not worth even thinking about, much less going to see in the theater.
Which makes the kid-friendly Monster Trucks somewhat of a surprise. Is it “good?” Not by any traditional measure, but when compared to the usual dreck sent out during the first month of every year, it’s practically gold.
Lucas Till (aka, the new MacGyver) plays Tripp, a put-upon teenager in North Dakota whose family life is a mess, what with his parents (Amy Ryan and Frank Whaley) split up, and his mom’s new boyfriend (Barry Pepper) being the local sheriff. Tripp works for Mr. Weathers (Danny Glover) at the local junkyard, using his know-how and resources to build his own truck.
When an oil company, led by Reece Tenneson (Rob Lowe), hits a subterranean water pocket in the course of drilling, they unwittingly release several undiscovered creatures into the world. Tripp finds one, which he dubs “Creach,” and finds out that not only does the “monster” subsist on a diet of oil, but it can also twist itself into the undercarriage of Tripp’s truck to turn it into a souped-up vehicle with no equal.
The plot, with more than its fair share of clichéd characters and scenarios, should be a non-starter for anyone over the age of 8. And yet, as directed by Ice Age’s Chris Wedge and written by Derek Connolly (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World, 2019’s Star Wars Episode IX), the film also has enough heart and fun to overlook the majority of its lesser qualities.
For one, the film doesn’t skimp on the storytelling aspect. Tripp is a honest-to-goodness three-dimensional character whose family issues resonate enough to make them worth caring about. The filmmakers also make Meredith (Jane Levy), Tripp’s brainy love interest, into someone who exists as an equal instead of just a pretty face. They barely touch on any romantic possibilities, keeping things mostly focused on the film’s mission.
That mission — to get the creatures back to their underground home — is also more than just an excuse to show off goofy car chase scenes and cheesy graphics. The connection between Tripp and Creach is far from cursory, giving an extra oomph to their quest. Yeah, you could roll your eyes at the sequences in which Creach makes the impossible happen, but taken in the spirit in which the film was made, they can be a lot of fun to watch.
With a cast boasting the up-and-coming Till and Levy, and such notable actors as Ryan, Pepper, Lowe, Glover, and Thomas Lennon, the film is not hurting for talent. Add in the commentary, both understated and not, on the impact oil companies can have on the environment, and it’s clear that this was not your usual slapdash film to be dumped on unsuspecting moviegoers.
Expectations should rightly be kept low for any movie receiving a January release, but if you go in with the right frame of mind and your favorite kid in tow, Monster Trucks is fully capable of providing nearly guilt-free entertainment.