"Creech is the most loveable on screen creature since Gizmo? Seriously, again, kudos to the team behind him"
The town is Smallville, North Dakota, land of diner waitresses dating the Sheriff, tortured high school seniors with wanderlust and shiny monster trucks. As with many American small towns, there’s also a big company nearby, providing the inhabitants with most of the town’s economy.
In the case of Monster Trucks, directed by Ice Age and Robots' Chris Wedge, the company is Terravex, an oil drilling company run by a rapacious CEO (Rob Lowe). When a nocturnal drilling accident unleashes unknown creatures, he chooses to hide the discovery and contain the monsters in order to continue drilling.
Unfortunately for Terravex, one of the three monsters escapes and manages to hide in a car junkyard, where he befriends Tripp (Lucas Till, aka Havok from the most recent X-Men films), the tortured teenager du jour.
I’m not sure how the art department and special effects team created the monster in question, but I fell in love instantly. Maybe because he’s clearly a baby monster, sharing mannerisms we find adorable with human toddlers, although possibly more so because his emotions were completely visible and believable. In addition to this, “Creech”, our Nessy-like blue-skinned, subterranean oddity, is an incredibly playful and intelligent being with a heart of gold. All thanks to him, I enjoyed the film a lot more than I expected to.
As Gizmo and E.T. before him, Creech soon changes Tripp’s life radically, due to an unpleasant encounter with Terravex’s stooges, Tripp discovers that Creech can not only hide inside a monster truck, but he is also able to get the truck to top speed without an engine. All great news to our male protagonist as he’s in dire need of an engine to finish building his own from various body parts found at the junkyard. This chance encounter also puts him in cahoots with Meredith (Jane Levy) the town brainiac, who happens to be pretty.
Which leads me with an aspect of the film I struggled with. From the start, it is clear that there is somewhat of a wink to classic American 80s films: small town Midwest, geeky high school rebel, greedy man with a large-chested secretary, the rich school jerk who bullies the smarter geeky protagonist, the bully’s hapless girlfriend...the list goes on. This however, does not mean the four writers (all male) can get away with a nerdy female doormat sidekick who lets herself be treated like dirt by the male lead for the sake of some pre-Buffy era nostalgia.
Tripp and Meredith’s was actually quite a weird journey to witness: given their very first interaction, I expected something closer to a nerd/rebel heterosexual bromance. Meredith tries to help Tripp with his science classes but he nonchalantly dismisses her.
Okay... I was expecting some form of conflict to follow. What followed however, was. her walking over to his barn at night by herself, and later admitting feeling chemistry towards him in the midst of a quid pro quo, none of which I could buy. She’s as physically attractive as he is. She’s smart, strong, has no apparent trauma, and has enough money to stomach a rather expensive gas bill later in the story. How someone like her could tolerate Tripp’s rude behaviour towards her before she even meets the adorable Creech?
After this very clunky beginning though, the relationship evolves into something more convincing. The two discover they’re both science geeks who each express their passion in a different way, and desperately want to escape Smallville. They make a very good team and may become a lovely couple in the future.
Another 80s cliché, which failed where Netflix’s Stranger Things recently succeeded, was the deadbeat father against the new dutiful boyfriend. This was mainly due to rather simplistic and vague exposition - for example, Tripp’s mother is hardly present, which I found a little odd given she’s the link between the three men. Speaking of parents, we also meet Creech’s, who happen to be the two monsters captured by Terravex. They are under the supervision of Dr Billy Dowd, a corrupt scientist wonderfully played by Thomas Lennon, who begins to seriously question his own values while bringing some nice comedy to the story.
For anyone who has watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary Before The Flood, this will resonate more with our era and publicising of the terrifying number of scientists accused of writing erroneous reports after receiving bribes from major corporations. That said, Monster Trucks’ portrayal of such unsavoury characters may be be rosier than current times, especially seen by the family-friendly lack of firearms in the film.
Nevertheless, seeing these themes tackled in a fictional narrative targeting younger audiences gave me hope. It was similarly uplifting to see the two younger protagonists devising a plan to save the day through their combined scientific knowledge. Yes, education is handy, and science is cool. In fact, this concept probably came in handy for Till in his other project, who recently starred as MacGyver in a tv series reboot.
Ethics aside, the film is also full of action, with some fantastic car chases and good funny moments too, mostly all credit to Creech. Have I mentioned Creech is the most loveable on screen creature since Gizmo? Seriously, again, kudos to the team behind him.
If you can turn a blind eye (or rather, a deaf ear) to a few script slip-ups, this can be an exhilarating ride for the entire family.