It is clear from watching Monster Trucks that the filmmakers have a great love for Stephen Spielberg’s E.T. The movie is about a creature that is lost, stranded, and unable to return home that finds a friend and ends up on the run from people who want to capture it for nefarious purposes. However, unlike E.T., the filmmakers here are unable to take that story and make it with the heart of that Spielberg classic.
Last year, David Lowery wrote and directed a remake of the classic Pete’s Dragon and that film remained very close to the heart and soul of E.T. What made that story work was that the main character was a young boy with a pure heart and adults who wanted to help him save his dragon. Those things were missing because the creature here – nicknamed Creech – found a teenager who was unlikable from the start and that is who we were stuck with as our hero.
Lucas Till (Havoc from the X-Men movies) is Tripp, the son of a single mother whose father left them high and dry years before without a trace (daddy issues is another Spielberg trait lifted for this movie). They live in a small town that relies 100% on the oil company that drills in the town. If this movie wants to send one message, it is that the oil barons are bad and ruin small towns and they don’t care about the environment.
Rob Lowe plays Reece Tenneson, the owner of the oil company and someone who just oozes evil. There is nothing good about him. He is not a well-rounded character and all he really needs is a little mustache that he can start twirling at times. The movie starts with Tenneson wanting to know why his oil rigs in this small town have stopped drilling. His scientist on site, Jim Dowd (Thomas Lennon), tells him there is an ecosystem they have hit, water many miles underground that might have life in it.
Tenneson says he doesn’t care and tells them to drill down anyway into the water to hit the oil that will make all of them rich. They do and suddenly, three creatures are shot out of the earth – creatures that were an unknown species that had lived in that underground ecosystem for years and now were forced from their home by greedy oilmen. Two of the three creatures were captured and the third gets away.
That is the setup of the story – the “monster” that is loose on earth that needs help and the boy it finds to save him.
The boy is Tripp, who has major daddy issues. He tells his mom (Amy Ryan) that he hates living in this town and wants to get out. He has no vehicle and that means that a school bully can make fun of him because he has a big truck and Tripp doesn’t. There is also a girl who really likes Tripp named Meredith (Jane Levy), but he ignores her and treats her like crap. There is also a nerd named Sam (Tucker Aibrizzi) who Tripp treats like crap and only uses for what he wants.
Tripp is a jerk and barely breaks out of that stereotype the entire movie. He eventually holds the girl’s hand and he really likes Creech but that is it. Honestly, the bad guys want to kill Creech and Tripp only cares about using Creech to give him a cool monster truck. I don’t see how anyone had Creech’s best interests at heart until a moment in the movie where Tripp decides he needs to help Creech get back home.
One thing that worked about Pete’s Dragon was that the bad guy chasing Elliott was not a bad guy. Gavin (Karl Urban) wanted to make money off capturing the dragon but he wasn’t really evil. Burke (Holt McCallany), the guy chasing Creech, was 100% evil and Tenneson at one point says he isn’t someone who hurt people – Burke is. It is those ham-fisted overdramatic things that really drags this movie down.
The design of the monsters was nice but the special effects of the trucks driving under monster power were pretty silly. There was a couple of moments involving the trucks that were creative but mostly it was dumb stunts with poor effects that will only excite little kids.
Sadly, this movie isn’t even really a great movie for little kids. The message is that oil is bad, and without better context, it was just a paper villain. The bad guys were mustache-twirling villains with no redeeming qualities, and the hero was a brat with daddy issues. Even when Tripp dealt with his daddy issues in this movie, it was not worth the wait. Really, the only positive outcome was a reconciliation between Tripp and his mom’s boyfriend (Barry Pepper).
There are a lot of good movies that come from the lineage that E.T. started. Stay home and watch Pete’s Dragon to see a good one. Avoid Monster Trucks, though. It never finds the heart of a true “boy and his monster” movie.