Some of the most heart-tugging family films have been about a boy and his dog, or a girl and her pony, or whatever kid-animal combination the writers could come up with for our gratification. So I guess it was about time to tell the story of a lonely, mixed-up high school guy and his monster truck.
In 2016's MONSTER TRUCKS (Paramount, Blu-ray/DVD/Digital) opens with a spectacular oilfield explosion like something out of John Wayne's HELLFIGHTERS, an explosion that releases three strange creatures living beneath the surface of the earth in an underwater ecosystem.
Two are captured, but one escapes into the wild and hides out in an auto wrecking yard where he cute-meets the aforementioned lonely, mixed-up high school guy, Tripp (Lucas Till, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, LAID TO REST, ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE).
Creech himself is a pretty delightful creation who resembles a big cartoony octopus with an expressive turtle-like head, and he ends up living inside the vintage pickup truck Tripp's restoring the same way a turtle inhabits its shell. Only with big undulating tentacles and a highly excitable disposition.
When it's found that he can propel the truck by spinning the axle with those tentacles, this not only delights Tripp to no end but also sets up most of the action that'll come at us fast and furious for the entire second half of the movie.
Before we know it, all three creatures are now sporting their own pickup-truck shells with their three human friends at the wheels, with Burke and a motley crew of truckers after them in a harrowing cross-country chase that's like something out of a kids' version of MAD MAX. It's an incredible sequence filled with non-stop, frenetic action and excellent CGI that's well incorporated into the live action.
This scene, in fact, is so intense and filled with hair-raising action that it goes well beyond the kind of excitement usually found in kid-oriented fare. At one point they even flip a full-sized tanker truck, something I've rarely if ever seen done before. Other stunts are equally amazing, with some great practical effects performed by full-scale animatronic trucks and a good balance between the realistic and the cartoony.
Frank Whaley (PULP FICTION's unfortunate "Brad") has a brief but well-played part as Tripp's dad, who's unfortunately portrayed as a bad guy (he works for the oil company) although he's basically just a poor working shlub trying to get by. Also, I feel a little weird rooting against the oil company as usual, since I do happen to drive a motorized vehicle that's powered by gasoline instead of a convenient monster.
Through it all, the personalities of the lovable Creech and his two fellow monsters make them into fully-realized characters that we can root for. MONSTER TRUCKS is brimming with good, old-fashioned sentimentality that tugs at the heartstrings, which is what this sort of film is all about. Although, thank goodness, it manages to not get overly sappy about it.
MONSTER TRUCKS is like a modern incarnation of Disney's HERBIE THE LOVE BUG only less farcical and with a compelling ecological angle that gives the story added urgency. But much more importantly, it's a heck of an action-packed thrill ride that'll have the whole family hanging on until the wheels fall off.
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