Monster Trucks (2017)

I think Nickelodeon has things bassackwards when it comes to “Monster Trucks.” In the nineties and perhaps even eighties, a normal company would have released a “Monster Trucks” toy line followed by its very own movie. Instead we have a long gestating kids movie about glowing monsters that hide in trucks that transform in to… monster trucks—or something. And there’s not a toy line to be had. I say that because “Monster Trucks” watches more like a pitch movie for a franchise than it does an actual movie. “Monster Trucks” was created by a four year old (no seriously, look it up), and intended to be aimed at younger kids (Honest) as a sort of pseudo-Transformers. Which in and of itself is pointless when young kids are still very much all about Transformers.

Tripp lives in a North Dakota town owned by an oil company named Terravax who are fracking various acres of land. While drilling they accidentally unleash a trio of mysterious tentacled monsters, one of whom gets away in time. Said monster takes shelter in Tripp’s beat up new truck, and the pair forms a relationship when Tripp realizes the monster needs safety. Along the way they bond, and Tripp names his new pal “Creech.” That’s like naming your cat “Feline,” but I digress. In either case, Creech eats oil, and as Terravax begin looking for the monster, Tripp swears to help his friend find his family. Along the way there’s an inexplicably great cast all of whom are pissed away or under used. There’s Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Barry Pepper, Frank Whaley, Thomas Lennon, and Amy Ryan, who has two short scenes as Tripp’s mom.

Imagine what a great writing and directing team could do with this kind of cast. “Monster Trucks” watches like a movie made by a committee, that’s tailored specifically to catch on with kids. It has colorful sleek trucks, a handsome hero and his gorgeous girlfriend, and friendly but fierce monsters that can fit in to trucks. Collect all the monsters now! Switch monsters in to different trucks! Trade with your friends! Customize your own monster trucks! It’s like pokemon! But with trucks! Gotta frack ‘em all! “Monster Trucks” is a very poorly developed and under developed kids adventure movie that begins on the wrong foot almost immediately. Star Lucas Till, who is at least nearing thirty, plays Tripp, a high schooler.

And when we first meet him, he’s sitting in a school bus headed for home, and rather than a high schooler, he looks more like a substitute teacher who had to hitch a ride with the school bus. It’s awkward, embarrassing, and fails to establish the character as anything but a mopey loser. Faced with his mom being married to the town sheriff he spends most of his time in the local junkyard messing with trucks, and ignoring his only friend in town, Meredith. She’s the love interest who makes her lust for Tripp so obvious, she practically walks around with a sandwich board that reads “Meredith hearts Tripp 4 Ever,” and he basically ignores her in favor of his cars. That is one of the many baffling plot elements since Jane Levy is also nearing thirty, fails to play a high schooler, does not pull off the geek role well, and is so attractive that Tripp ignoring her makes him even more of an oaf.

“Monster Trucks” pretty much works overtime to establish a bunch of exposition for “Creech” and his family, and leaves a lot of plot threads sloppily open ended and unresolved. When it’s not borrowing from “E.T.” or “The Iron Giant,” it fails to build any semblance of an entertaining or engaging adventure film. It’s just an abysmal kids film that cares more about universe building for the sake of merchandise, than fleshing out its concept and characters.