(Weird) Watching with Alex, Episode 22: “So there’s a squid and it does WHAT?”

Monster Trucks [2016]
Directed by: Chris Wedge
Written by: Derek Connolly| Matthew Robinson, Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger
Music by: David Sardy

Featuring:Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Barry PepperDanny Glover, Rob Lowe
Production: Paramount/Nickelodeon Movies/Disruption Entertainment
Category: Family Creature-Feature

I’ve watched a lot of cool movies in recent years but nothing has made me so genuinely happy as what we’ve got here today. When writing up a Watching entry my standard procedure is to digest the featured film for a few days so that I can properly order my thoughts and translate those through the keyboard. I will not be doing that today. I just watched Monster Trucks and wrote this all down immediately after. Let’s get right into it.

Being a Nickelodeon film, we need to start off with some easy to dislike yet not too menacing villains. Enter Terravex Oil, or more specifically Reece Tenneson, the company’s standard-issue CEO (Chief Executive Orifice) who has just flown in to meet with Jim Dowd, the head geologist  of this particular Terravex drilling site in North Dakota. According to the techs in charge of running the drill, they’ve encountered the outer edge of an underground chamber that’s potentially filled with water, which means there could be an ecosystem down there.

Tenneson pressures Dowd over this, who says that there’s “too much nitrates down there and that the pressure alone would make life unlikely. The techs reluctantly restart the drill which does end up punching through into water, however the camera feed immediately picks up bio-luminescent points of light. The techs say it’s definitely a sign of organisms but Dowd claims it could just be reflections from their lights. The large unidentified thing that passes quickly into the frame is much harder to explain away.

As with karma in any movie where you don’t listen to the smart people, the rig can’t take the water pressure, experiences a blowout, and then the whole thing explodes in a great fireball just for good measure, spewing water all over the complex as well as propelling three large objects, obscured by the darkness, through the air  in every direction. Security quickly rounds up two of them but the third manages to evade detection by hiding in a wrecked truck.

Enter Tripp, young man whose father’s out of the picture and his mother is dating Sheriff Rick. Yeah, it’s one of those angst situations. He doesn’t want to be at home because of Rick. He barely exists at school, much to the annoyance of his study partner, Meredith. He doesn’t even have a car, which probably accounts a good bit for both situations as he spends most of his time working for Mr. Weathers at the scrap yard who gives him access to tools and parts to work on a truck of his own.

Let’s take a moment to look at this truck before it gets some major body work later on:

monster-trucks-trailer-4_50

I absolutely love this thing. From the chassis design to the color, this is definitely a truck I’d fall for, too. Back to our story already in progress. The wrecked truck from the Terravex site has been brought to the scrap yard since it’s been partially crushed and has a large hole bored through it. Strange. Still, the engine looks good so Mr. Weathers lets Tripp have it for his project.

While working into the night, Tripp has to go out and investigate some strange goings-on that he tracks to a stack of oil drums. When the stack collapses into a pile of drums and tentacles he understandably dashes back to the garage as they go flying everywhere and shuts himself into the work pit. An ominous shadow falls over the light coming in under the door and settles over the doors as more tentacles force their way underneath and begin rummaging around in the barrels. Tripp waits until the whole creature squashes its way under the door before jumping up and out, shutting and locking the thing inside.

He calls the police and says something attacked him. When Rick and several deputies show up and find nothing but an empty drum in the pit, of course Rick comes to the conclusion that Tripp is pulling a prank because Tripp doesn’t like him. The next night Tripp manages to lure the creature to the car crusher with more barrels of oil but the darn thing is just so affable that he can’t see it as a monster anymore. It looks like a blobby blend of octopus and seal and, aside from the toothy maw it first presents, displays a playful disposition in favor of the latter animal.

Of course, he can’t just leave it in the middle of the yard, so he tries putting it on a trolley to move it to a better location. The creature is more interested in following the yard’s dog and, now that it has some small wheels, it quickly drags itself off after it and into the garage. The garage with Tripp’s truck. Now Tripp’s really annoyed with the mischievous thing.

The Terravex team sent out to track down the missing creature then show up, having stopped at the station while Deputy Yapper is on duty, led by Burke; if I need to point this out, he’s a really bad dude. They search the garage and don’t find anything, though Tripp certainly spots the tentacles hanging from the bottom of his truck and quickly directs them to another part of the yard where “…the coyote must have come from.” while the truck starts to wiggle and move by itself.

To complicate matters further, while he’s “pushing” the truck to another garage because, “It doesn’t run.”, Meredith shows up for their study session. (“I brought flash cards!”) Through a series of jokes involving the grunting truck and why he can’t give Meredith a ride home (“Who would kidnap you? No, I didn’t mean it like that. That stuff doesn’t happen here!”), Burke and his goons catch on that something’s up. This leads to a short chase through the dark woods and fields where the two manage to lose Burke and his men. Tripp might as well give Meredith that ride home now.

She gets a proper introduction to Tripp’s new pal when they set the truck up in her family’s barn. Tripp fills her in on what he knows so far and asks if it’s okay to use her father’s tools to work on the truck. It managed to handle its mechanical shell well enough but if “Creech”, as he’s later named, is going to make full use of the myriad of impressive abilities that his species possesses, he’s going to need more room to move around in. The test runs next day show that Creech handles his new truck-body with flair and even Tripp is having a good time teaching him new tricks, tricks that will come in handy once Burke’s team tracks them down again.

In the meantime Jim Dowd, Terravex’s head geologist whom we met back at the beginning of all this, has been studying the other two organisms that came out of the drill site when all of this started. His research is leading him to believe that, more than mere animals, these creatures are highly intelligent. More than that, he’s starting to see that acting as Tenneson’s cover-man has led to him doing more than a few bad things over his career and now he doesn’t want to stand back and just let the head of Terravex do as he wants anymore, which is to get rid of any more of these animals before their official discovery halts drilling at the site.

Tripp, Meredith, Dowd, Burke, and Rick are all quickly heading for climactic collision over Creech and his fellow beasties, and before it’s all said and done there will be big trucks, thrilling chases, amazing stunts, moments worth a chuckle, and more action than you can wiggle a tentacle at. Hoo-wee!

Favored Ability: DEX/CHA. Tentacled truck shenanigans are almost constant and there’s a lot to love in big squishy Creech.

Rating: 5+/5 (4-scoop Ice Cream Cone) [+2 Music Mastery, +1 Teal Truck, +1 Creature Concepts, +1 Trick Points, Kid-Again Bonus Round]

This ended up being another entry that I had to cut down on extensively due to just how much I enjoyed this movie and how passionate I become when talking about it.

I can’t imagine how the pitch for this movie went but I’d have loved to be there. You might be familiar with the whole “Nickelodeon sucks today!” that makes the rounds on social media. Say what you will but the both the fact that the studio green-lit such a bizarre concept as Monster Trucks at all and that it simply didn’t recreate but made me feel like I was Little Alex all over again shows that there’s still a spark in the studio that truly never went away.

I included a credit to the composer of the film’s music especially for that reason because you, Mr. Sardy, were probably the most responsible for pushing me over the brink into a pit of plastic balls and Happy Meals. Monster Trucks is about heavy truckin’ and there’s a good bit of classic rock and country tunes to bring out that muscle. However, it was the orchestrated scenes that brought out that truly “classic” feel for me. I love me some guitar but when I was growing up on movies a good chunk of the accompanying soundtrack was still orchestra. It’s amazing how much energy, thrill, and fun a good orchestra can add to action scenes and giant trucks wrecking shit. Love it.

I regret that I didn’t get to catch this movie in its theatrical run as it would have been amazing in 3D. Seriously, grab your family, sit them down with some popcorn, and just roll with this one. You may just thank me.

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