This one kind of snuck by me in theaters. I would not have seen it on the silver screen, but I did not realize it had even come out until I saw the Blu-ray in my review queue. Monster Trucks feels like Transformers' direct-to-video cousin. Produced by Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon Movies, this Chris Wedge-directed action-drama certainly does not dazzle like a Michael Bay film, but it offers a lot more emotion and character development. The story in a nutshell: A high school senior, Tripp (Lucas Till), works at a scrapyard to re-build a truck so he can impress pretty classmate Meredith (Jane Levy). A fearful, subterranean creature hunted by the local oil company that released it finds Tripp and becomes the "engine" in his truck. Tripp and the beast, named Creech, bond, and Tripp works to save it from extinction. The movie is innocuous and somewhat bland. While it did not captive me, I suspect its target audience - adolescent boys - will get a kick out of this material.
There is nothing to do in North Dakota, so Tripp spends his afternoons crushing cars at junkyard. He wants something more than this unremarkable existence, and we see, briefly, that his mom (Amy Ryan) is dating the sheriff (Barry Pepper), which displeases Tripp. Terravex Oil is fracking nearby and one night releases three subterranean creatures that look like a mix between an octopus and Jell-O. Two are captured but one escapes and finds Tripp at the scrapyard. Creech survives on oil, so it crawls into the body of a truck and serves as a makeshift engine. I'm not totally clear on how this works, and the film never defines clear rules about Creech, who can apparently survive wild car chases and cliff jumps without a scratch. Terravex's CEO (Rob Lowe) sends a bounty hunter (Holt McCallany) to kill Creech, so Tripp and Meredith go on the offensive to protect their new friend.
This movie is certainly well intentioned, and the cast is all very agreeable and invested in the project. Monster Trucks lacks grit, however, and feels like something you might see on ABC Family or Nickelodeon. There is conflict without much conflict, and nothing in the film's 104 minutes feels particularly urgent or important. Till is not a bad leading man, but his character is simply too pedestrian to resonate. Lowe is a cartoon villain, and Levy is just a pretty girl sidekick without personality. Creech will amuse children with his gurgles and mischief, but Monster Trucks offers little for adults. The story is as generic as they come, and it is curious that three people are credited with creating this narrative.
Although there are a couple of neat effects when Tripp and Creech launch the truck over obstacles and villains, this is clearly a lower-budget affair than many effects blockbusters. Creech is all CGI, of course, and at times the actors struggle to interact with the creature in what I can only assume is a side effect of green-screen inexperience. Despite the cookie-cutter story and lack of depth, it is hard to fault Monster Trucks for playing to its intended audience. I suspect kids will eat this up, and I imagine there is some tie-in merchandise on the shelves of toy stores, too. My eyes glazed over at the halfway point, but, again, this is not a movie shot for me. If you have kids, check it out. Otherwise, keep it moving, as the universal appeal just is not there.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image from Paramount is expectedly strong. Fine-object detail is generous, and the film handles effects blending well. This is a bright, colorful film, and the transfer offers wonderfully saturated colors. Some shots are softer to hide dodgy effects, but wide shots are generally deep and clean. Black levels are good, and occasional murky shadows are also a cloak to save on the effects budget. Skin tones appear accurate, and I noticed no digital tinkering.
The disc offers a Dolby Atmos track, which I sampled in 7.1 Dolby TrueHD. The mix offers plenty of directional effects. Action scenes are wonderfully immersive, and all elements are nicely balanced. Dialogue is crystal clear, and the score is deep and appropriately layered. French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are also included, as are English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and both iTunes and UltraViolet HD digital copies. A heavily embossed slipcover wraps the case, and Paramount throws in two Monster Trucks decals for fans. Extras include Who's Driving the Monster Trucks? (7:06/HD), about the cast; The Monster in the Truck (4:57/HD), about the digital creatures; Creating the Monster Truck (6:29/HD), about Tripp's truck; a Gag Reel (4:35/HD); Deleted Scenes (8:36/HD); and Production Diaries (10:13/HD).
This family action-drama is aimed squarely at adolescent boys, and it should entertain that audience. For everyone else, Monster Trucks is a generic, bland property that offers little to grab your attention. Well-intentioned and occasionally fun for the aforementioned viewers, Monster Trucks is worth renting if you have kids. Rent It.