After a long gestation period, Monster Trucks has finally hatched. And the final result is… rather unspectacular. The basic setup of the film should be familiar to anyone who’s ever read a YA book. Tripp (Lucas Till) is an adrift young man, something of an outcast in his small town despite being attractive, talented, and well-liked. One night, while working on cars in a local garage, he discovers a magical monster, dislodged from its subterranean home by a ruthless oil company called Terravex. Although he attempts to kill the creature at first, they bond a bit, and he decides to spare it, giving it the not-very-thoughtful nickname “Creach.” The movie’s title comes in when Tripp has the idea to host Creach inside the shell of a truck he’s been working on. Creach’s cilia and many monstrous tentacles are more than enough to make up for an engine. Together with his school tutor/love interest Meredith (Jane Levy) and sympathetic Terravex employee Jim Dowd (Thomas Lennon), Tripp sets out in his new “monster truck” to return Creach where he belongs, away from Terravex’s hired guns.
The movie has enough goofy jokes and fun escapades to satisfy its target audience, but a few glaring flaws stand out. One is that the monster, the crux around which the entire movie revolves, is spectacularly ugly. A slimeball of tentacles with teeth like an undersea creature makes sense for the plot (in which the monsters are living deep below the earth) and Nickelodeon’s long-running slime aesthetic, but it’s not very fun to fantasize palling around with.
Then there’s the fact that Tripp is actually a pretty big jerk. He treats Meredith like dirt the whole movie (that is, when he deigns to talk to her at all), even though she’s clearly devoted to him. He does the same for Jim and his mom’s boyfriend Rick (also the town sheriff). He really seems only capable of bonding with Creach, but the possibly interesting implications of that relationship are never explored. Instead, every other character in the film treats Tripp reverently, like a classic hero figure, but he doesn’t quite deserve such treatment—distractingly so.
The most interesting aspect of Monster Trucks is actually not the magical/sci-fi element at all. It’s the fact that this small town is held completely in thrall to Terravex, a private corporation run by a ruthless businessman (Rob Lowe, in a brief but delightfully seedy performance) and enforced by his paid corps of Blackwater-like mercenaries. At one point, the leader of this private security force (Holt McCallany) even brings the town sheriff to heel, reminding him that Terravex employs most people in the town, so local elections won’t go well for him if he tries to interfere. Americans in North Dakota or one of the many small towns left grocery-less by Walmart will probably understand these scenes as the film’s most realistic portions. C+