Saturday, 6 May 2017

Monster Trucks (2016)

Monsters and trucks, monsters are kewl, monster trucks are definitely kewl. How could this not turn out to be awesomely kewl??

So there's this fracking company fracking away North Dakota. One night they accidentally release three creatures from the subterranean caves far below the Earth's surface which in turn causes the destruction of their set up, a big news event. The company catches two of them but one escapes and finds its way to a local junkyard. Tripp (Lucas Till), the young man who works at this junkyard eventually discovers the creature and starts to slowly bond with it. Naturally of course the company is wanting to find this creature to cover up its big incident so they hire professional thugs (as you do). Meanwhile Tripp has discovered that the creature enjoys hiding itself inside the shell of his souped-up, modified pickup truck (for reasons only useful to this movie and its title). So Tripp must now avoid the hired thugs, avoid the creature being seen and try to get it back home. Oh and he's gotta save the other two creatures from within the evil fracking company too. Heavy week!

I knew nothing about this movie and at first I honesty thought this was gonna be your stereotypical underdog racer story. You know what I'm talking about, Tripp is a languishing truck racer, possibly up and coming but waiting for his breakout moment. He then finds this monster which can power his truck, he enters races and gradually starts winning, slowly moving up the ranks and finally entering a championship. Eventually reaching the final, up against his arch nemesis, he comes from behind to win. He then lives happily ever after with his pet monster, or the monster goes back to its habitat leaving Tripp sad but happy with how his life has gone. Basically a Herbie type rip-off is what I was expecting here.

First lets look at the good, the only decent bit before the problems. The entire premise isn't particularly original for sure, its basically 'E.T.' (and every other clone ever since). A young man finds an alien type creature, befriends it and tries to save it from corporate baddies. We've seen this type of thing a gazillion times before. But the one thing I did quite like was the idea of undiscovered subterranean creatures, again its not totally original but its a fair crack isn't it. The actual design of the creature wasn't exactly something I would have gone with myself but it works well for the plot. It was probably created with some scientific research into its natural habitat which would explain its squid-like body shape and bioluminescence. So while the creature was a bit 'Disneyfied' in the face department (biggish eyes and a slightly expressive face overall), I did like the whole subterranean aspect of it. Its a shame we don't see anything of these creatures in their underwater world but I guess that adds to the intrigue...and fuel for the sequel.

Right lets take a look at the various issues, the predictable stereotypes, the crowd pleasers etc...Staying with the creature for a minute, its bloody obvious from the get go the creature is in fact a younglin, a child, whilst the other two that are captured are in fact its parents. You don't pick up on it at first, but once you hear the nasty fracking company caught the other two, you just know it. This does of course lead to the inevitably gooey finale where the creature will want to save its parents with Tripp's help (before escaping back underground). The creature itself is of course quite large, simply a moist mass with tentacles. So you do have to ask yourself, how is this thing not being seen all the time? Also how is it surviving out of the water? Yes it may be able to survive outside of water but for this long?? Lets remember it does primarily live underwater so why would it be able to survive for so long out of the water? The creature also makes lots of loud noises including laughing...which seems idiotic but hey its a kids flick right. Oh and it lives on...oil? Well that could lead to a...sticky situation...aaah I'm terrible.

OK so the main angle of the movie is monster trucks, pickup trucks and 4x4's...oh and monsters (even though in the movie I wouldn't say the creature is a monster, but more of a large Cephalopod. Yes I realise its also a play on words). Anyway so the hook here is, once Tripp discovers the creature, he finds that it enjoys 'living' inside his pickup truck shell. The creature is also able to somehow power the truck with some kind of energy from its clue. So Tripp modifies the truck so the creature can live in it (hidden away), he then proceeds to 'drive around' in the truck which is powered...get it? Ah there it is, we got there.

Thing is, why does the creature wanna stay cooped up inside this rusty pickup truck? This is an underwater creature, but now it likes driving a truck with its power This also leads to so many obvious questions that mainly revolve around control. How the hell would Tripp ever be able to control this living creature that is controlling his truck? Sure we get some sequences of him getting to grips with this problem but it never really seems solid to me. During this time Tripp naturally experiences problems...massive insurance related problems I'm sure. By that I mean he wrecks many many cars including an entire car dealers line up (monster truck style), almost kills people (must have) and totally destroys the side of a woman's car whilst she's driving it. Surely any of this would alert the police no? Nah don't be stupid, no consequences in this movie bucko.

I honesty don't know how many of the characters in this movie get away with half the stuff they do. The baddies run (drive) around trying to capture this creature causing all sorts of chaos along the way, while Tripp ends up breaking into the fracking company facility, illegal use of a car dealership garage (that just happened to have all the right tools for truck modification) and eventually stealing 4x4's! Not only that but he then proceeds to cut the trucks up so the other two creatures can fit in them when they break them out of the facility. Not quite sure how they knew what size truck they would need, or how to modify them correctly for the other two unseen creatures. What if they didn't fit?? But at the end of the day, to save the creature, all Tripp and co would need to do is expose the creature. In this day and age the discovery of a large new aquatic animal like that would be headline news around the world. Almost everyone would be filled with joy and stepping up to protect it and its habitat. So in my opinion simply exposing it to the media would save the creature right away.

Believe it or not the finale is where this movie gets a bit too ridiculous. The goodies are trying to reach the original caves where the creatures came from, and they are trying to shake the hired thugs. This involves a long 4x4 chase between the baddies in their all black 4x4's and the goodies in their stolen modified (complete with spoilers), monster powered 4x4's (and Tripp's piece of crap looking pickup truck). This ends up going up a mountain which of course means what goes up must come down. Oh boy do they come down, they literally drive their trucks off a cliff a thousand feet up or whatever. Somehow the humans don't get smashed to pieces inside the trucks and manage to survive unscathed. The trucks also manage to hold together and not disintegrate on impact, ditto the creatures manage to survive too. I'm still not really sure how these creatures could survive this fall or prevent the trucks from being destroyed, they're not magical, they can't fly. Suspension of disbelief is generally in order here obviously, but there are certain levels, certain limits.

So yes this is a case of throwing E.T. and Herbie into a blender and coming out with a somewhat generic, cookie cutter product low on original ideas. Lets be honest it was never really gonna be anything more than that even though the movies poster is pretty sweet. There is a lot more I could mention that I picked up on but its not worth it, minor continuity errors and such, the review would be too long. Although I will just mention that almost everyone in the movie appears to drive a 4x4 or pickup truck, which feels kinda like overkill on product placement to me. Overall the movie isn't as lame or schmaltzy as I thought it would be, the effects are fine, lovely location scenery and the acting is perfectly acceptable for what this is. This is one of those cases where (I think) had the movie come out in the mid to late 80's (or even early 90's) it might be looked upon now as a bit of a cult classic. Unfortunately these type of films don't really fly anymore because its all been done, but truth be told this wasn't actually too bad.