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We've seen the "kid and their monster" trope play out on the big screen so many times by now that there's very little new material to be mined from it. Ultimately, the approach to said genre is where the difference matters for most films, and despite losing some points for creativity or even coherence, Monster Trucks manages to find a way to make its sub-par product into a breezy, and dare I say enjoyable, time at the movies. If you're a fan of Free Willy and *batteries not included, then you'll probably have tons of room in your heart for Monster Trucks.
Tripp (Lucas Till) is having some issues in his life, with a father whose left the family high and dry, and a local sheriff / step-father (Barry Pepper) who he doesn't like. Throw that onto the pile of issues that include being one of the only seniors not to have a car, and a Biology tutor that watches him like a hawk (Jane Levy), and you can see why he enjoys smashing cars at the local junkyard so much. That is, until a mysterious creature winds up making its way into town, and changing Tripp's life forever. He's big, he's slimy, but he's got an adorable personality and a heart of gold. He's Creech, and he's about to turn one North Dakota town into a battlefield of comedy and friendship.
Despite the negatives that Monster Trucks finds itself taking on throughout its storytelling process, it winds up being an extremely fun film. Most of that fun comes thanks to the relationship between Till's Tripp and Creech, the monster in his truck. Lucas Till's performance with the CGI creature is rather astounding, as their rapport is one of the highlights of this movie. The other highlight would be Jane Levy's Meredith, a role that showcases the range that Levy's been putting to work throughout her years in the business. In fact, the biggest compliment this film can be paid is that it knows what type of film it is, but everyone from the director to the stars on the set play the film with earnest charm, rather than detached irony.
Of course, for every beat that works in Monster Trucks, there's a couple that fall flat. This mostly comes from the vastly underused Thomas Lennon and Rob Lowe, as an oil company stooge and the CEO whose running the show. While Lennon manages to make the best of his time in the film, serving as the ever important scientific mentor who turns good, Lowe's character could have easily been excised from the film's running time, and not have hurt the films' content. Also, a note to Hollywood: give Holt McCallany something more to do than be the vicious heavy in films like these. Or if you're going to make him your villain, let him off the chain a little more, as he barely gets to have fun playing the main antagonist.
As a traditional narrative, or even as a kids' film, Monster Trucks fails on multiple levels. However, as a throwback to 90's children's fare, as well as a generally fun and kind-spirited time at the movies, it succeeds admirably. One would have hoped that Paramount could have programmed this in a decent slot to try and make a hit out of it, but sadly the studio seems to have lost confidence in the film. Which is a damned shame, because Monster Trucks serves as a perfect family film to take your kids out to, after they've already seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story or Sing, depending on how old they are, of course.
In a better world, Monster Trucks would be the sequel that gets a big budget, several pictures, and a team of screenwriters to punch up its stature, in order to become a cinematic universe of its own. Sadly, Transformers is the film that Paramount is keen on making into such a centerpiece, and it's a shame really. Films like Monster Trucks make us remember the movies we had so much fun with as a kid, and without a dependence on creepy or bathroom humor. It's safe for kids, but parents you might be pleasantly surprised how much you enjoy this movie.