Monster Trucks is a film for children. Nothing more, nothing less. This isn’t Pete’s Dragon or Kubo and the Two Strings. It has no interest in catering to the kid inside you, just the kid beside you.
In other words, this is not some hidden masterpiece everyone should immediately go see. But this is a good movie. Despite its laughter-inducing premise, Monster Trucks checks all the boxes needed to supply a great entertainment, one far better than its trailer indicates.
The story is simple. A villainous oil company drills through an underground water reservoir, unknowingly breaching the habitat of previously undiscovered creatures living far beneath the earth’s surface. Three of these oil-drinking blobs are forced from their homes. Oil jerks capture two immediately but the third escapes. If anyone finds out about these creatures, the oil company’s potentially massive reserve will be turned into a federally protected environment as this movie takes place in a fantasy world where the government isn’t evil.
This third creature eventually bonds with 25-year-old high school student Lucas Till, a mechanically skilled knucklehead who yearns to get out of his dusty small town. Through a series of surprisingly enjoyable scenes that somehow don’t manage to break the movie’s logic, the creature embeds itself into Lucas Till’s truck, just in time for the two to escape the oil company’s hired goons.
You know what you’re getting here. Monster Trucks is essentially an E.T. riff. But it’s a successful version of that template. Lucas Till has great chemistry with his CG blob. The script is filled with solid jokes, none of which are low brow or dependent on toilet humor. Characters are developed enough to earn true payoffs in the third act. The tone is also very sincere without making a big show of it.
And the actors! Monster Trucks plays almost like a retirement home for actors who are clearly punching below their weight. Rob Lowe, Thomas Lennon, Barry Pepper, Frank Whaley, Danny Glover, Amy Ryan… they just keep popping up, lending the film a bit more gravitas that it would have otherwise.
Special mention should also be made for Jane Levy, last seen getting her ass kicked all over the place in Don’t Breathe. There’s a certain sitcom tone a movie like Monster Trucks requires. It’s not an easy one to pull off without looking either dumb on one hand or condescendingly hammy on the other, but Levy absolutely nails it as Lucas Till’s heart-eyed sidekick. I couldn’t believe it was the same actress and now greatly look forward to what she’s in next (it helps that one of her upcoming appearances will be in the new Twin Peaks).
Again, this isn’t going to do a lot for the adult set. There’s an unabashed cheesiness at play, and plot conveniences run rampant in what is ultimately a very small and clean story. But if you meet the movie on its own terms, I don’t believe you’ll find much to deride. It’s certainly not the laughing stock we all expected, and I now feel horrible about my contributions to that.