As part of my new year’s resolution not to be a cynical jackass, I took my kids to the new Nickelodeon movie, Monster Trucks, with an open-mind. And I had a much better time as a result.
It would be super-easy to be cynical about Monster Trucks, the $125 million blockbuster made by Paramount Pictures and the Nickelodeon channel. It’s the sort of book most critics would definitely judge by its cover – and with a dumb premise, two far-too-attractive teen stars and lots of dumb, fast-paced fun to enjoy, you might be forgiven for rolling your eyes and scoffing at the film. Yet if you approach it with an open mind, it’s actually surprisingly fun.
The movie is set in the oil-fields of North Dakota, and starts off with some truly stunning scenery as the movie opens. The premise is similar to a hundred kid’s movies – from Flight of the Navigator to E.T. – in that greedy executives disturb a weird life-form, and a teenager ends up becoming the creature’s unlikely savior.
Lucas Till was cast so all the moms taking their kids to the cinema would have something to lust after.
You can tell that a bunch of Nickelodeon execs thought up the premise during happy hour – “yo, dude… Let’s have a movie about an alien that’s also a truck!” But the ridiculous premise (and the monster’s not an alien, by the way) ends up being crammed into a narrative that deftly suspends your disbelief.
The film also throws up a surprisingly star-studded cast. Thomas Lennon, from Reno 911 and I Love You, Man might be expected in a flick like this, but you’ll also find Rob Lowe – Rob-fucking-Lowe– reprising his evil-executive character from Wayne’s World, and Danny Glover is rolling about in a wheelchair demonstrating that, yes, he really is too old for this shit.
Of course, the stars are the truck-driving teens, and in that respect you have the impossibly good-looking Lucas Till – Havok from the recent X-Men movies – and the ridiculously gorgeous Jane Levy from Don’t Breath and the Evil Dead remake (and I’m not a creepy dad for saying that; despite playing a high schooler in this movie, she’s a respectable 27-years-old in real life.) They both do a great job and are immensely likable in their roles.
Rob Lowe clearly needed a new set of golf clubs, which explains why he’s starring in this movie.
The movie has a cookie-cutter plot about evil oil executives, saving the environment and doing the right thing… but it is also very much a kid’s movie for the modern age. There’s a subplot about the hero’s deadbeat dad, and his tough-but-fair stepfather, and it’s actually pretty heartwarming how that plays out. It also has a very dialed-back romantic subplot; with Lucas and Jane sharing nothing more lascivious than a squeeze of each other’s hand towards the end of the film.
For the dads dragged along for this movie, there’s the Evil Dead’s Jane Levy.
Perhaps my only criticism is that some of the destruction during the car chase scenes seems a bit… excessive. I mean, I’m not squeamish, but I’m pretty sure a bunch of dudes would have died during some of the car crashes, and Thomas Lennon gasping: “I hope they were wearing their seatbelts!” is hardly reassuring in that regard. Our teenage hero also crushes dozens of cars, runs another driver off the road and smashes through traffic and red lights enough for you to wonder if there might be any consequences for their actions after the film is over.
This film is basically a commercial for Dodge trucks. And a good one.
But in a movie about a squid living in an old truck, perhaps I should be suspending my disbelief in that regard as well.
So, at the end of the day, I’ll say that Monster Trucks might not be an Oscar contender, but it’s a really solidly put together movie (or 90-minute commercial for Dodge trucks.) The CGI is breathtaking, the plot is just dumb enough to work, and you’ll be rooting for the heroes by the end of the film, no matter how old and cynical you think you are.
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And the kids loved it – especially my three-year-old little girl (who was the one who insisted we go and see it in the first place.)