Wednesday, February 15, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Monster Trucks

Hey guys, it's finally here! It's The January/February Film Dumping Ground! Yes, it's that magical time of the year when the major studios burn off all the celluloid bombs they didn't dare release during the all-important Summer and Xmas blockbuster seasons! Awesome! Brace yourselves for two solid months of watered-down PG-13 horror films, cheap CGI kids' movies and fart comedies. It's a fantastic time to be a film fan!

Monster Trucks was written by written by Derek Connolly, with "story by" credit from Matthew Robinson, Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (it took four people to write this thing?). It was directed by Chris Wedge.

Connolly previously wrote Safety Not Guaranteed and Jurassic World (well, there's your problem right there). Robinson previously wrote The Invention Of Lying and Jerked. Aibel and Berger previously wrote a number of animated films together, including Kung Fu Panda, Monsters Vs. Aliens, Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Kung Fu Panda 2, Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water, Kung Fu Panda 3 and Trolls.

Wedge previously directed a handful of CGI kids' films, including Ice Age, Robots and Epic. Monster Trucks is his first live-action feature starring actual humans.

Since it was first announced, Monster Trucks has become something of a punch line around Hollywood. Industry insiders and moviegoers alike mocked the film relentlessly, based solely on its title and preposterous concept. People were labeling it the worst movie ever made before anyone had ever seen a single frame of it.

So what's the verdict? IS Monster Trucks as terrible as everyone's saying? Hardly! It's not even the worst film I've seen this year (and it's only February)! 

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I kind of liked Monster Trucks!

Despite what you may have heard, the movie's not that bad! 
Monster Trucks
is a fun, well-made little tale that feels like a throwback to 1980's kid films like E.T.GremlinsInnerspace and The Goonies, all of which were either directed or produced by Steven Spielberg. OK, so Monster Trucks isn't quite in Spielberg's league, but it does share a few similarities to his early works. There's also a bit of Transformers and How To Train Your Dragon thrown into the mix as well.

This is obviously a kids' film, so I think we need to cut it a bit of slack. It's not fair to judge it by the same standards as you would an adult movie. And therein lies a big part of the problem the general public thinks this is an adult film, and is razzing it accordingly. They have no idea it's made for children. Blame the Paramount Marketing Department for this one!

Believe it or not, the script is actually fairly smart. The creatures in the film are aquatic, so they move slowly and laboriously on land, as their tentacles are weighed down by gravity. Once in the water, the creatures are super fast and graceful exactly as they would be. They also have a terrible fear of fire, which makes perfect sense as well, since they consume oil to survive. Well done, writers! 

There are also numerous plot points that are set up early on, which actually end up paying off later in the film! "Setup And Payoff" should be standard operating procedure when writing a screenplay, but you'd be amazed at how infrequently it happens these days.

Credit where credit's due whatever else you may think of Monster Trucks, at the very least, it's an original idea, which is something you don't see much in the cineplex these days! It's not a sequel, remake, reboot or prequel. Amazing!

The origins of the film may be more interesting than the actual movie itself.

In 2012, Paramount Pictures formed their own in-house animation studio, imaginatively titled Paramount Animation. Their first release was The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water. It was a big hit for the fledgling division, grossing a whopping $323 million against its $74 million budget.

Fresh off this success, Paramount decided they wanted to start up an original film series like the Transformers franchise. One that would translate into lucrative toy sales, but wouldn't require paying hefty licensing fees for pre-existing properties to corporations such as Hasbro.

To that end, Paramount President Adam Goodman greenlit Monster Trucks as the animation division's next film. Believe it or not, Goodman allegedly got the idea from his four year old son, who though the concept of trucks powered by monsters was the most awesome thing ever (!). 

Studio executives expressed concern about the Monster Trucks concept, but Goodman had already overseen many successful films at Paramount, including the Star Trek reboot, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol and the highly profitable Paranormal Activity franchise. With a track record like that, what could possibly go wrong?

Plenty! For some reason (that phrase gets used a lot here at Bob Canada's BlogWorld), Goodman tapped Chris Wedge to direct the film. Wedge had helmed several successful CGI movies, but Monster Trucks was his first live-action film. This situation perfectly echoed the 2012 John Carter debacle over at Disney. Andrew Stanton directed several high-grossing Pixar films before tackling the live-action John Carter, with spectacularly dismal results. For some directors, the transition from animation to live action isn't always a smooth one.

Wedge actually does an acceptable job on the film. Still, I have to wonder why anyone in their right mind would willingly hand the reins of a multi-million dollar production to someone who'd never directed a live action film before.

Production on Monster Trucks began way back in May 2014, with a release date of May 2015. In January 2015, the film was pushed back December 25, 2015. As we all know by now, anytime a movie's release date gets pushed back, it's ALWAYS a bad, bad sign.

The film was completed in January 2015 and screened for studio executives. Shortly afterward, Paramount President Adam Goodman was summarily and abruptly forced out of his position (gosh, I wonder why?), and the film was pushed back again to March 2016. 

Let Goodman's fate be a lesson for any film studio presidents out there don't let your four year old son come up with ideas for multimillion dollar movies.

In August 2016, Bob Bacon, the head of Paramount Animation (who oversaw production of Monster Trucks) was also fired. And just to make sure he got the point, Paramount eliminated his position altogether!

Then In November 2015, the film was pushed back one last time, to January 13, 2017. And we all know what January is, right guys? The Traditional Film Dumping Ground!™

Another problem: for some reasonMonster Trucks cost a whopping $125 MILLION DOLLARS to make. Jesus Christ! How the holy hell did a film like this end up costing that much?

For comparison, Guardians Of The Galaxy is an amazing-looking space adventure that's filled with spaceships, alien planets, fantastic sets and numerous CGI characters. Virtually every frame of the film features some kind of CGI effect, yet it cost just a bit more at $170 million. 
So why did Monster Trucks, which has one fourth as many effects as Guardians, cost nearly as much? The film does feature some impressive CGI creature effects, especially in the third act, but nothing you can't see on TV every week on The CW's superhero shows. 

There's nothing onscreen that should have ballooned the Monster Trucks budget by THAT much. The majority of the movie's set in a small North Dakota town, and is shot like a cheap TV sitcom. So where the hell did all that money go?

Part of me wonders if the studio might have artificially inflated the budget as part of a tax write-off. Late in 2016, Paramount Pictures took a massive $115 million writedown and lowered its earning forecast. Paramount executives stated the writedown was "related to the expected performance of an unreleased film." Hmm... now I wonder what that unnamed film could possibly have been?

Because of Monster Truck's ridiculously inflated budget, it's highly unlikely that the movie will break even, much less turn a profit. Wait, did I say "highly unlikely?" I meant impossible. Because of marketing and other hidden costs, these days a movie needs to gross twice its production budget before it turns a profit. That means Monster Trucks will have to gross at least $250 million just to reach its break even point!

There's no way in hell that's ever going to happen. After an entire month in theaters its grossed an embarrassing $58 million worldwide. This is a HUGE flop for Paramount. If the film had cost even half the current budget, it might have had a chance. Don't look for Monster Trucks 2: The Return Of Creech anytime soon!


The Plot:
Somewhere in North Dakota, the evil Terravex Corporation is drilling for oil on pristine soil. Reece Tenneson (played by Rob Lowe) arrives at the drill site, and asks Chief Geologist Jim Dowd (played by Thomas Lennon) why there's no oil being pumped. Dowd explains that the oil drill has hit a huge pocket of water two miles down. They need to study the water, and if it contains an ecosphere, then drilling will have to stop.

Because he's an evil industrialist, Tenneson doesn't care and orders the drill to punch through the water pocket to get to the oil below. The drill bores through into the water, and they see some... thing pass its onboard camera. Suddenly pressure builds up in the drill shaft, and three large creatures burst out of it and into the air, destroying the derrick. There's a huge explosion, and several Terravex trucks are smashed.

Wade Coley (played by Frank Whaley) gets a look at one of the things that came out of the drill shaft. He's shoved aside as a hazmat team takes over. Don't worry, this'll all become important later on. Tenneson tells Burke, an evil Terravex security guard, to contain the situation. 

Burke tells Tenneson they've captured two of the creatures, and are looking for the third. As a scientist, Dowd wants to examine the creatures. Tenneson agrees, but tells him to keep it quiet, as they're sitting on a massive field of oil and he doesn't want anything to ruin it. Meanwhile, something inside one of the smashed trucks looks out through the grill and moans pitifully.

Cut to a rich punk named Jake, as he drives his fancy new 4x4 truck past a school bus, his girlfriend Brianne in the passenger seat. Don't worry, this'll become important later on. Jake sees Tripp (played by Lucas Till), the hero of the film, inside the bus and laughs at him before roaring off. Tripp's dropped off at home and whines to his mother about not having his own truck. He says things would be different if his absentee father was still around. His mom Cindy (played briefly by Amy Ryan) tells him things aren't so bad, and that life doesn't always to the way you plan it. She leaves for work as her live-in boyfriend, Sheriff Rick (played by Barry Pepper) pulls up. Tripp resents Rick for no good reason, and leaves on his bike.

We then see Tripp operating a pneumatic press, crushing a car at the junkyard where he works. His boss, Mr. Weathers (played by Danny Glover), arrives, towing one of the trucks that was destroyed in the Terravex accident. Tripp examines the engine, says it's still in good shape and would be perfect for the truck he's rebuilding. Tripp's an excellent manipulator and gives Weathers the sad eyes. He tells Tripp to take the engine.

Tripp opens Weathers' garage, and we see the ancient teal green truck he's trying to restore. As he works on the engine, he sees Wade Coley on TV being interviewed about the incident at Terravex. He perks up when he sees Wade and mutters, "Dad?" See, I told you this would become important later on. Tripp hears a noise outside, and when he investigates, finds a derelict car with a large hole punched all the way through the side. Hmm...

The next day on the way to school, Tripp's approached by his classmate and future love interest Meredith (played by Jane Levy), who reminds him they're lab partners. He rudely blows her off. He walks by a Dodge dealership (Product Placement Alert!) owned by the father of Sam Geldon, another classmate. Sam idolizes Tripp for some reason, but of course it's a one-way friendship. Don't worry, this will also become important later. There's a commotion at the dealership, as a dozen or so new cars have holes punched through their sides just like the one at the junkyard. Hmm...

That night Tripp works on his truck again. He hears another noise outside, and this time when he investigates, something knocks over a huge wall of stacked fifty gallon drums (I won't ask why anyone would ever stack them three or four high). He runs back in the garage and jumps into the grease pit, closing the doors after him. A tentacled creature oozes through the doors and drops to the floor of the pit. Tripp manages to open the doors just enough to escape and then blocks them, trapping the thing inside.

He calls Sheriff Rick, who arrives with two deputies. A visibly shaken Tripp tells Rick about the octopus-like creature he trapped. When he opens the pit doors, of course the creature's gone. Wah-wahhhhh. Rick is understandably upset, thinking it was a practical joke.

The next day at school, Tripp asks Meredith if it's possible that a new species of sea creature could be living in North Dakota. She rattles off a ton of expository dialogue, saying that North Dakota was undersea in prehistoric times, but a deep sea creature wouldn't be able to survive out of water because gravity would weigh down its limbs.

Later that night, Tripp pours oil all over the junkyard to lure the creature into the open. Amazingly it works, and an animal that looks sort of like an elephant seal crossed with an octopus appears
 but cute, sympathetic and lovable appears. It moves slowly and lethargically, as its body's weighed down by gravity out of the water  just like Meredith said! It picks up an oil drum and begins drinking from it like a baby bottle. Tripp realizes the creature actually lives on oil. It's almost accidentally crushed in the hydraulic press, but Tripp risks his life to save it. The creature is apparently intelligent, and seems to understand that Tripp helped it out. By the way, since the film never gives the species a name, I'm going to arbitrarily call them "creechers."

Tripp uses a forklift to place the creecher, which he imaginatively names Creech, onto a wheeled cart so he can take it into town and show it to Sheriff Rick. Creech uses the cart like a wheelchair, sailing around the junkyard as Tripp runs after him. Creech wheels into the garage and shuts the door. Just then Burke arrives with several goons, saying he heard a mysterious animal was spotted at the junkyard the day before.

Tripp tries to get rid of him, but Burke barges into the garage. Fortunately it appears empty, except for Tripp's old truck. Tripp sees that Creech has somehow squeezed himself up into the truck and is hiding inside it. Burke and his goons then go look around on the other side of the junkyard, much to Tripp's relief. 

Creech begins pushing the wheels and propelling the truck out of the garage. Tripp tries to stop him, but Creech is much stronger than him. Just then Meredith shows up, saying she's there to help Tripp study. He's rude to her again, telling her it's not a good time and she needs to leave. For some reason, Creech lets out a mighty roar inside the truck. Burke hears it and comes a runnin.' Tripp and Meredith hop in the truck and Creech takes off.

Tripp tries to steer the truck, but Creech is in control and takes them on a wild ride through the woods. He finally comes to a stop in a field. They watch as Burke and his men pass by in the distance. Meredith asks what the hell's going on, and Tripp introduces her to Creech. She's terrified at first, then becomes fascinated with the new species.

Tripp's afraid to take Creech back to the junkyard after the incident. Meredith, whose family is apparently rich, lets him store Creech and the truck in her father's incredibly well-outfitted garage, "which he never uses." Tripp realizes that Creech moves forward when he can see through the grill of the truck, and gets an idea. He uses Meredith's father's tools and supplies to rig a series of blinders for the truck's grill. When opened, Creech will see and accelerate. When closed, he'll be blind and brake. Tripp also shows Creech how to use the powerful cilia on his tentacles to spin the axles at incredible speeds.

Back at Terravex, Dowd has been studying data and says there's a vast network of interconnected underground lakes deep beneath North Dakota. He tells Tenneson there's undoubtedly an entire ecosystem there, full of millions of creechers. Tenneson asks if there's any way to get to them. Dowd says they could be accessed through a natural vent in a crater lake high on a rugged mountain. There are no roads on the mountain though, and it's accessible only with a 4x4 truck. Foreshadowing! We then see that Tenneson has the other two creechers locked in large, opaque containers..

Tripp shows Meredith the modifications he's made to this truck. She points out what the audience is thinking, namely that Tripp is deliberately mistreating a sentient life form by forcing it to be the engine in his truck. Tripp blows off her concerns, saying that Creech is happy and having "fun," which I don't see how he could possibly know. She says Creech obviously came from somewhere, and should be allowed to go back.

Now that Tripp knows his dad Wade is in town, he wants to reconnect with him. Meredith decides to go with. Along the way they stop for gas, and Tripp sticks the pump under the hood, in Creech's mouth. Jake and Brianne pull up at the next pump. Brianne says she likes Tripp's truck, but Jake makes fun of it. Brianne looks like she regrets hooking up with such a jerk. Don't worry, this'll all become important later on, I promise.

Tripp and Meredith pull out of the gas station, and Creech becomes uncontrollable. Meredith points out that gasoline is basically oil, but refined and with added chemicals. I guess the gas is making Creech drunk? In a big action setpiece, he sideswipes several cars and causes numerous wrecks. He then heads for the Geldon Dodge dealership, where he drives over several dozen cars, crushing them flat. Meredith mouths a lame "Sorry" to Mr. Geldon as they roar off. Amazingly this incident of mass destruction is played for laughs and never brought up again.

Meanwhile at Terravex, Dowd experiments on the two captive creechers, and discovers they eat oil (which the audience already knew). He realizes their sentient (which the audience also already knew) when they seem to understand him, and one even gives him a wave.

Tripp visits the Terravex trailer park, which serves as temporary housing for their workers. He approaches his dad Wade, who doesn't seem very enthused to see him. Wade admires Tripp's truck, and takes a closer look at it. He tells Tripp and Meredith to make themselves at home in his trailer while he makes a call. He joins them a few minutes later. 

Meredith asks Wade what happened the night of the Terravex explosion. He says it was like the Earth "got mad and let something bad out" Wade, acting extremely nervous, excuses himself and leaves.

Tripp follows and sees his dad talking with Burke. He accuses his dad of selling them out, but Wade says he's just doing the right thing. Burke says he's taking Tripp's truck and the "thing" inside it. Tripp tries to stop him, but Burke shoves him violently. Creech sees this from within the truck, becomes angry and starts spinning the truck in circles, knocking down Burke and his men. Tripp and Meredith jump in. Tripp then drives the truck straight through Wade's trailer. Haw haw! Property damage is funny! That'll teach him to report potentially hazardous animals that are loose in the area!

Creech roars off, and Burke and his thugs follow in several SUVs. Creech speeds past Sheriff Rick, who sees Tripp in the cab. Rick turns around and follows the Terravex goons. There's a rollicking chase scene that looks like it takes place on the same two city blocks, and Tripp and Meredith eventually get away when Creech climbs up the side of a building. They jump from building to building, somehow not crashing through any rooftops. They think they've lost Burke and Rick, and return to the street blow. Unfortunately Burke and his convoy are right behind them. Tripp sees a train coming and Creech jumps over it, using it as a roadblock. Burke and Sheriff Rick are stuck fuming on the other side of the train.

Meredith tells Tripp they can hide out at her wealthy family's secluded lakeside cabin. As Tripp and Meredith camp out on the shore, Creech slips out of the truck and into the lake. He's a dull gray lump that can barely move on land, but once he gets in the water he's quick and graceful, and his body glows with a beautiful bio-luminescence.

Meanwhile at Terravex, Dowd shows Tenneson that the two captive creechers are intelligent and share a hive mind, as each instantly knows what the other learns. Tenneson accuses Dowd of falling in love with the animals, and orders them to be flushed down an ejection well along with the dril site's waste water, where no one will ever find them. Because Tenneson's evil, remember? When Dowd says killing the creechers would be murder, Tenneson blackmails him, reminding him that he's falsified reports for the company and lied to the EPA in the past. Dowd reluctantly backs down.

Seconds after we find out the creechers share a hive mind, Creech wakes up and seems troubled. He senses the captive creechers' distress and drives off.

Tripp and Meredith wake up to find Creech and the truck are gone. Tripp says his cell phone was in the truck, so Meredith uses a magic app to track it, along with the truck. They see Creech is heading for Terravex's headquarters. They take a cab there and somehow sneak right into the building, undetected. They waltz through the facility and find the holding area where Dowd's keeping the creechers.

Suddenly Creech breaks through a wall and lets out a might roar. Tripp realizes the two captive creechers are actually Creech's parents! GASP! Who'd have ever guessed this amazing plot twist? Burke and his men appear, tranquilize Creech and capture Tripp and Meredith. They're taken to Tenneson, who tells them to forget what they've seen, or else.

As Tripp and Meredith are being escorted out of the building, Dowd intercepts them and says he's on their side. He says he can't stand idly by while the creechers are killed, and wants to help. Tripp says he wants to get the creecher family back home, but Dowd says it'll be impossible, as the access vent is on top of a mountain, inaccessible to any vehicle. Tripp says he has a truck that can make it, but they'll need to find two more.

Tripp goes to see Mr. Weathers and tells him he needs trucks. Apparently in addition to owning a junkyard, Weathers is also a repo man. He takes Tripp to Jake's house, where they repossess his fancy 4x4 truck. Brianne looks out the window and sees Tripp towing Jake's truck, but says nothing. It's OK because Jake's a jerk, and he deserves it! See, I told you this would all become important later.

Tripp then goes to see Sam at the Geldon dealership, and says he needs a truck (!). Tripp somehow talks Sam into giving up the brand new truck he was promised for his sixteenth birthday (!!!) Sam, who idolizes Tripp for some reason, also lets him use the garage at his dad's dealership. See, I told you this would become important later on too.

Through the power of a montage, Tripp, Mr. Weathers and Sam work through the night to modify the other two trucks to accommodate Creech's parents inside them.

Meanwhile, all three creechers are being loaded onto a Terravex semi. Dowd steals the truck and drives off with it. He brings the truck to the dealership, and they release the creechers from their containers. Creech is finally reunited with his squishy, tentacled family. As Tripp and Meredith watch the touching scene, they tentatively hold hands. Finally!

Creech shows his parents how to slither into their trucks and operate them. Tripp drives Creech's truck, Dowd drives the dad's, and Meredith of course drives the mom's, because they're both girls. They all roar out of the dealership, minutes before Burke and his men arrive.

The creechers leave the roads and drive through the wilderness, heading toward the underground vent. There's lots of offroad action and flying trucks, which is sure to delight the four year olds in the audience. Burke and his convoy catch up, and the creechers use their tentacles to flip over a couple of his thugs' SUVs.

Meanwhile Sheriff Rick hears Burke's chatter over the radio, and speeds off in pursuit. He soon spots the monster trucks, with Burke in pursuit. Burke tries to run Tripp's truck off a narrow cliff. Rick rams into Burke's car, saving Tripp. Burke then shoves Rick's sheriff car off the cliff (!). Um... wouldn't that be attempted murder? Rick survives, but his beloved sherff's car is a total loss.

Dowd then spots a tanker truck up ahead. He says it's full of poison, which Tenneson plans to release into the vent, killing all the creechers far underground. Tripp and the others speed toward the tanker. As it passes by, one of Burke's men lights a fire in the middle of the road. The creechers are brake to a stop, as they're deathly afraid of fire (because they drink oil, get it?).

Burke and his men pull up behind the three monster trucks, cutting off any possible escape. Suddenly Sheriff Rick appears, driving a massive, two story-tall dump truck that he got from somewhere. As the creechers cling to the sides of the cliff, Rick drives over Burke's convoy, crushing all the SUVs like styrofoam cups. Burke of course drives through the fire and gets away.

The creechers use the dump truck to jump over the fire, and careen down the side of the mountain, airborne most of the way. They catch up to the poison-filled tanker and Creech knocks it over. Hooray! Unfortunately they see there's another poison-filled tanker (?), ready to flood the vent. Isn't that always the way?

The Mom & Pop creechers chase all the Terravex workers away, and Dowd and Meredith try to shut down the poison pumps. Meanwhile, Burke, the world's most persistent security guard, smashes into Tripp and Creech. He's about to push the monster truck into the two-mile deep vent hole, when Creech grabs Burke's SUV and filings it into the air. It lands on the pumps, destroying them and filling the vehicle with deadly poison. Burke's trapped inside, and presumably dies. But it's OK, because he was bad, right?

But we're not out of the woods yet! The monster truck teeters on the edge of the vent, with Tripp and Creech inside. They topple over the edge, and fall a thousand feet into the deep water below. As the truck rapidly sinks, the water revives Creech. He brings Tripp back to the surface and lays him on a rocky outcropping in the vent shaft.

Tripp wakes up and sees hundreds of glowing creechers poking their heads out of the water, including Mom & Pop, who I guess jumped in while we weren't looking. They push Tripp's now engineless truck onto the rocky outcropping. The creechers all dive back to where they belong. Creech stays behind a minute or so to bid a touching farewell to Tripp, then dives into the water.

Cut to Dowd deliberately planting endangered horned lizards on Terravex property so the EPA will shut down the company. Tenneson's arrested, but it's OK because he's evil. Tripp rebuilds his truck, with Sheriff Rick's help. We then see Tripp and Meredith drive off into the sunset.

• At the beginning of the movie. Terravex discovers a huge underground lake above an oil field, deep below the surface. Chief Geologist Jim Dowd says that at two miles down, the water pressure is 10,000 psi. Air pressure at sea level is about 15 psi.  
I'm no scientist, but given this radical difference in pressure, doesn't it seem like the creechers would explode when they come to the surface?

• The first time we see our hero Tripp, he's riding a school bus to class. I assume from this that he's supposed to be a high school student. Trouble is, actor Lucas Till, who plays Tripp, is currently twenty seven. He looks every day of it too, as he absolutely towers over the other kids on the bus. 

This is nothing new, as it's a time-honored tradition in Hollywood for thirty-somethings to play teens.

I'm wondering if Tripp's size is intended to be funny here? In the film he's humiliated and embarrassed by the fact that he can't afford his own truck and has to ride the school bus. I think maybe he's supposed to look ridiculous and uncomfortable here.

Or maybe it wasn't intentional, and it's time for Lucas Till to stop trying to play a teenager.

• Similarly, Jane Levy (who starred in the Evil Dead remake as well as Don't Breathe), plays Meredith, Tripp's nerdy love interest. At twenty eight, she's also a bit long in the tooth to be playing a teen, but she actually manages to pull it off more convincingly than Till.

• Rob Lowe stars as evil Terravex CEO Reece Tenneson. For some reason, Lowe decided to give his character a vague, unidentifiable accent in the film. It might be a Southern accent, or perhaps he's from Bayou country. Maybe he's Belgian
 there's honestly no way to tell.

Note that Lowe himself apparently forgets where his character's supposed to be from, as his accent fades in and out intermittently all through the film.

• Barry Pepper plays Sheriff Rick, the closest thing the film has to a hero. I feel kind of bad for Pepper. He was in Saving Private Ryan and The Green Mile for Thor's sake, and at one point seemed headed for leading man status. Then he lost his mind and starred in the Scientology crapfest Battlefield Earth, which dealt a near mortal blow to his career.

• Amy Ryan, aka Holly Flax of The Office, "stars" as Tripp's mom Cindy. Get a good look at her, because she's in the movie for literally thirty seconds.

I'm always fascinated by these "blink and you'll miss 'em" appearances in films. Did she originally have a much bigger part that was cut for time? If not, why the hell would they bother paying a fairly well-known actress for less than a minute of work? Did she have to audition for this tiny part?

The producers could have saved themselves a lot of time and trouble by just having one of the female crew members play the mom.

Monster Trucks feels like a forgotten film from the 1980s, and the poster looks like a throwback to that era as well It's very reminiscent of the work of Drew Struzan, who illustrated many a Spielberg poster back in the 80s and 90s. This isn't his work, but it's a pretty good imitation.

• For someone who's ostensibly the hero of the film, Tripp is actually quite a dick. If he was a superhero, his powers would be manipulating and using his friends for his own ends. Let's take a look at a few of his actions here:

Meredith has a huge and obvious crush on Tripp, which he continually exploits all during the movie. Her father's rich and has a clean, spacious and well-equipped garage he never uses. Tripp expertly maneuvers her into letting him use this garage so he can upgrade his truck.

Meredith's family also owns a secluded cabin, which Tripp uses to hide Creech from the authorities. He even talks her into loaning him her debit card, and uses it to rack up $398.61 in gas for Creech!

But it doesn't stop there! Tripp also uses his boss Mr. Weathers, manipulating him into giving him a like-new engine from a repossessed vehicle to use in his own truck. Later on he somehow hoodwinks Weathers into helping him modify two brand new vehicles obtained under sketchy circumstances.

Even Tripp's treatment of his newfound friend Creech is selfish and manipulative! Because Creech isn't built to move on land, he needs Tripp's truck in order to get around. Tripp exploits this dependency for his own needs, basically sealing his "friend" inside his truck and using him as an organic engine! When Meredith questions the morality of this, Tripp casually dismisses her, saying Creech is happy serving him.

Tripp's also a complete asshole to his mom's new boyfriend Sheriff Rick, simply because he tries to impose some much-needed discipline on him.

Worst of all though is Tripp's treatment of his classmate Sam Geldon. Sam is an awkward lad who obviously doesn't have any friends, and idolizes Tripp for some reason. Tripp uses this lopsided friendship to his advantage, going so far as to somehow talk Sam into GIVING him the brand new truck he was set to receive on his birthday. He also gets Sam to let him use the state of the art garage in his father's dealership.

How the hell's Sam going to explain the disappearance of a brand new truck to his father? If he doesn't say anything he'll likely be grounded for life. If he tells him about Creech his dad will probably institutionalize him.

Meanwhile, Tripp doesn't give two sh*ts about Sam or the trouble he causes for him. When Meredith realizes they're asking a lot of Sam, she tells Tripp, "You know you're going to have to hang out with him after this, right?" Tripp replies, "Maybe once." Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!

Tripp finally displays a tiny ray of empathy for others when he sees Creech reunited with his family, and realizes his "friend" is more than just a piece of machinery he can exploit. From that point on Tripp decides to do whatever's necessary to get Creech and his family home. Does this redeem him, or is it too little too late? I'll leave that for the viewer to decide.

• The scene in which Tripp sits in his old derelict truck and pretends to be driving it, complete with "VROOM VROOM!" vocal effects, was truly cringe-worthy. What is he, five years old? I honestly felt embarrassed for Lucas Till, especially when he had to act like he launched himself in an ejector seat in slow motion.

• Wondering how the creechers can survive on dry land, when they're an aquatic species? The writers thought of that! At one point Dowd says there's a whole network of underground lakes and caverns below the surface, and the creechers have evolved to breathe in and out of water. Well done!

• Say what you will about the movie, but you can't deny the fact that the creecher effects are all very well done. They look absolutely real, complete with glistening, slimy skin textures. 

More importantly, they move realistically as well. Creech practically pours himself from place to place, and his tentacles seem to have real weight as he struggles to lift them against gravity on dry land. Giving a CGI character a real sense of weight is something many films STILL struggle with, so good job, animators!

Kudos as well to Lucas Till, who has a real rapport with Creech, and interacts seamlessly with him. This is all the more amazing when you realize Till was most likely talking to a ping pong ball on the end of a stick during the Creech scenes.

 Tripp drives his literal monster truck to a service station, and fills Creech up with unleaded fuel. Unfortunately the gasoline makes Creech drunk (I think?) and he careens through town on a destructive rampage. As I mentioned before, Creech sideswipes several cars on the road, causes numerous auto accidents, and utterly destroys twenty or thirty brand new vehicles at the Geldon Dodge dealership.

In all, Tripp and Creech cause hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property damage during their little jaunt through town. Oddly enough, the second the scene is over, the destruction is completely dropped and never brought up again. Somehow Tripp casually drives off and gets away with it scot-free. 

Even without a monster inside it, Tripp's old teal blue truck seems pretty recognizable, especially in a small town such as his. It seems unlikely that NO ONE would have recognized either the truck or him driving it and alerted Sheriff Rick.

Yes, I realize this is a kid's film and a comedy, but that doesn't mean actions shouldn't have consequences...

• Dowd demonstrates the creechers' intelligence by tapping out a sequence on a Simon game, then handing it to them so they can duplicate the pattern.

Unless Simon has changed drastically in the past twenty years, that's not how the game works. The one I had as a kid just played a sequence that you had to mimic. It wasn't possible to create your own pattern.

I suppose it's possible that Dowd altered his Simon game so he could program it. Because geology and electronics are both sciences, and all science is the same, right?

• Naturally Creech's mother has a pink skin tone, while his father is blue. Because infant gender color schemes exist two miles below the surface of the earth too, right?

• Early in the movie, Tripp implies his father Wade's been absent for a long time. Later on Wade appears on the local news, and Tripp is surprised to see him.

From these scenes, I'm guessing that Wade walked out on his family and left town years ago, then recently returned and started working for Terravex. That's the only scenario that makes sense, since Tripp was shocked to see Wade on TV. If he'd been living in the same small town all these years, Tripp would have run into him and known about him.

• Wade betrays his son Tripp by selling him out to Burke. Tripp gets his revenge by driving his monster truck through Wade's trailer. 

Um... I guess it didn't occur to Tripp that Wade was likely renting the trailer from Terravex, and didn't actually own it. So he actually hurt Terravex here, not Wade.

• Tripp and Meredith sneak into the Terravex facility to rescue Creech, and are captured. Terravex President Reece Tenneson confiscates Meredith's phone and deletes all her photos of Creech.

Um... that wouldn't necessarily be the end of her photos. My phone stores photos on itself, but it also automatically uploads them to Google Photos online. If I can figure out how to set that up, a smart gal like Meredith should be able to as well, and her photos are likely still out there in the cloud.

• The Wilhelm Scream pops up when when Creech throws one of the Burke's thugs into a rock. It's really time we retired that sound effect. It was a fun little Easter egg the first five or six thousand times I heard it, but now whenever it's used it takes me right out of the movie.

• Tripp's boss Mr. Weathers owns a junkyard and drives a wrecker, despite the fact that he's a paraplegic. Good for him! But he also inexplicably seems to be a repo man on the side, as Tripp uses him to relieve his nemesis Jake of his fancy new truck.

Um... the repo business can be pretty dangerous. Is it really the place for a guy in a wheelchair?

• Product Placement Alert! Every car in the film (with the possible exception of the cop cars and the construction vehicles) are Dodges. Sam Geldon's family even owns an entire Dodge dealership! There's also some Case construction equipment that's prominently featured, and at one point Tripp sits in front of a Big Red Soda machine, which I guess is still a thing.

• At the end of the movie, Meredith and Dowd cook up a plan (involving horned lizards) to get Terravex shut down by the EPA. Hooray! The evil oil corporation's out of business! Thousands of innocent workers who had nothing to do with their shenanigans are now unemployed! And the unnamed town in which they all live just lost its main industry! It won't be long till people start moving away, businesses shut down and the place becomes a ghost town! But the evil oil company's gone, so it's a win for our side! Huzzah!

Monster Trucks is a fun, well-made, fairly well-written kids' film that feels like a throwback to Spielbergian movies of the 1980s, and is nowhere near as bad as you've likely heard. It also features some impressive CGI creature effects that are seamlessly integrated into the action. Unfortunately its inflated budget means it's never going to turn a profit, making it a huge financial flop for Paramount. Since this is ostensibly a film for children, I'm being a bit more lenient with it and giving it a B-.

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