Review: ‘Monster Trucks’ (vehicular tentacle fun)

If this movie had been made in the 1980s, it could have been a summer blockbuster.

In a small midwest American town, a conglomerate drilling company opens a pocket into a subterranean tunnel network while looking for oil, unleashing three long-hidden creatures of unknown origin. Enter Tripp (Lucas Till), a local high school senior who dreams of getting out into the world… until one of the creatures stows away inside the chassis of a truck he’s been building from scrap in a junkyard. With the support of a smitten classmate named Meredith (Jane Levy), Tripp hides the oversized cephalopod in his vehicle like a shell but also uses it as an engine: an oil-fed bio-powered hybrid monster truck. Naming the beast Creech, Tripp must get his new friend and the others like it back before the drilling company can destroy their habitat to make way for tapping the underground reserve.

An environmentalist movie, an excuse to sell toys, or something in between? Okay, maybe it’s a little of all of it. The trailers aren’t clear if these creatures are from outer space or inner space, but they sure do like curling up inside mechanical monstrosities, wallowing in lubricants, and going as fast as they can. With a mix of practical effects, CGI, and product placements from Dodge Ram — with the logo splattered over their truck grills like badges of courage — it looks fun, but will it appeal to adults as well as kids?

Back in the 1980s, Steven Spielberg produced a slew of child-friendly blockbusters with family appeal, the biggest arguably being E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial along with Gremlins, Goonies, and Young Sherlock Holmes. The more recent Super 8 also touched on this formula but with a darker slant. While hinting at so-called cinematic peril, this bloodless production revels in the fun aspects of getting to drive your own vehicle while shirking the responsibility — prepare for sideswiping, car-crushing, and reckless off-roading — but enough of it is over the top to even think anyone would try anything like this. It’s a truck-driving fantasy with a sci-fi slant and a warm sense of humor… a cure-all for the too-serious cinematic blues.

Besides the main cast, secondary parts are handed over to the likes of Barry Pepper, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Holt McCallany, and Frank Whaley — an above-average cast of secondary characters. There are a few farfetched moments, most often used for a momentary shock or fun moment, so these can all be glossed over as part of the fantasy element. It’s unusual that a film like this puts as much thought into making everything work together, even down to the plausibility of explaining how a subterranean oil-eating sea monster would not only feel at home snuggled up inside a four-by-four but the unique abilities that enable it to use them like a supercharged wheelchair with Speed Racer Mach 5-like abilities.

The story also avoids some of the typical plot pitfalls of the single-parent poor kid from across the tracks, but do their moms all have to be dating the local sheriff? Here’s looking at you, “Stranger Things.” Fans of light-hearted fare seeking something safe to take your five-to-fifteen year-olds to shouldn’t be disappointed… and as a bonus, you probably won’t be bored. Monster Trucks is rated PG for action, peril, brief scary images, some rude humor, and guilty pleasure.

3 Skull Recommendation Out of Four

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