Monday, March 11, 2019

Monster Trucks

Spoiler-free!

Hear me out on this one. I promise, I'm being serious!

When it released in 2016, Monster Trucks -- featuring the premise of tentacled monsters who exist inside and drive trucks -- was clearly for kids. If you saw the trailer you probably got a great sense of the ultimate ridiculousness. And why would it be anything more than literal monster trucks crashing into things? Nothing more is needed to sell its target audience. But this little gem undersold itself in marketing, and I'm here to set the record straight.

Directed by Chris Wedge (the Ice Age movies). Screenplay by Derek Connolly (Kong: Skull Island and the Jurassic World series). Combine the best and craziest aspects of those movies and you get an idea of what this is like!

Starring Lucas Till as Tripp, the high school kid, Jane Levy as Meredith the girl, Barry Pepper as the mom's boyfriend, Amy Ryan as the mom, Thomas Lennon as the scientist guy, and Rob Lowe as the evil bad guy oil tycoon -- oil drilling goes so deep that they hit an underwater pocket of water and three monsters who feed off the oil are launched up to the surface. One escapes and is found by Tripp who just so happens to have a truck sans engine. He discoveres that his oil guzzling new friend is a pretty awesome engine substitute. Meredith joins the gang. Next thing you know they're in full blown chase sequences running from the bad guys out to get "Creech."

And the chase sequences are AWESOME. But back up for a sec because the setup is on point. It's silly --duh-- but it hits the marks and doesn't fudge anything. There's no messing around, and it knows what we're here for, but it also knows what makes a story work and doesn't skimp in the build-up. The bad guy's bad character is established. It teases us by not showing the monsters during the drilling incident. The scene where Tripp meets Creech is actually two scenes -- one that plays like a horror movie, and then another where he and we see how he really is. And how is he really? ADORABLE. Like if Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon was a dolphin/octopus hybrid.

SEE??? He can be pretty scary if he wants too, and the whole species is a cool, thought-out creation.

Things get established. The movie understands quality and how to craft it; but it also understands that it doesn't\ need a plot like The Dark Knight in order to be a good action/adventure film. It plays to its genre, and its audience. Things are straightforward, utilizing established tropes as shorthand to get to the meat of the matter fast. The action is designed for maximum entertainment per square inch, and to that end, it doesn't pretend to be realistic. If it did, its whole existence would be hypocritical. Instead it embraces the natural parameters of its heightened, silly, and fantastical existence and plays into it, being the best it can be within that, and doing a stunningly good job at every aspect it tackles.

Like, I kinda hated Meredith at first because she was a too talkative Smart Girl, and underestimating the film's intelligence, I figured she'd stay annoying. I was wrong, and liked her by the end. Tripp and Creech's friendship is at the center of the movie, and they take their time showing us how the meet and get to know each other. Creech's species is quite intelligent and though he doesn't talk they understand each other and have a dynamic that's more than easy to get behind. Tripp has a contentious relationship with his mom's boyfriend, who's the town sheriff, and that takes some good turns too. And I particularly loved Barry Pepper being there. Also Danny Glover in a small role!

It so unabashedly embraces itself that it unironically plays Home by Phillip Phillips at the end -- and owns every bit of it.

Most of the movie is extremely predictable. A wonderful thing in this case. When watching it, you think, "What would be the most awesome thing that could happen right now?" You think of it, and then it happens, every bit as awesomely as you hoped. Subverting expectations may have its place, but it certainly isn't welcome here. This movie aims to deliver the goods exactly as ordered. Its plot structure is incredibly clean and succinct, with traditional three-act rises and falls that feel like a smooth-sailing roller coaster of glee. It's time for action? Done, with a bang. Humor? It goes for it. Romance? Well, friendship first, this is a family film. Emotional beats? Kids, you'd better believe there are emotional beats in this movie because that's the fuel that brings stories to life!

Seriously, I went into this expecting something dumb to make fun of and laugh at. Instead I was laughing with it, having the biggest blast of gleeful action I've had since who knows when. And, I was impressed at every turn by the level of stakes, and the sweet little cheesy heart. A movie about monsters driving trucks had me invested. I can't emphasize this enough. There may have been plot holes. I wouldn't care if there were. You could pick apart its logic. I don't care. It doesn't matter. It's the kind of movie that earns its existence beyond the shallow depth of something Cinema Sins could detect. It's clean, family oriented, displays positive relationships and positive themes, and most importantly -- Monsters. And. Monster trucks!

I genuinely feel sorry for the people who can't enjoy it because it's silly. Silliness in itself isn't a negative, and this movie is the evidence!

Ridiculous, yes, but with effort and care as it should be, not in some cheap and lazy kiddie fodder way. A silly and quality movie simultaneously. Even the CGI and creature designs are top-notch. It looks amazing, is amazingly heartfelt, amazingly fun, cheesy, dopey, and that supremely heightened kind of unaffected cool that makes me burst out laughing to see. Popping with bright colors, palpable joy, cute little monster eyes, and giant truck tires bouncing across open plains and down the sides of mountains. Monster Trucks is everything a kid could want. And that includes your inner kid, too.

Currently streaming free on Amazon Prime.

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