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Greg Llamas is a journalism senior and Mustang News film columnist. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News editorial.

There have been many instances when a film has a lot of potential, but because of issues like sloppy writing or bland characters, they wind up being truly miserable experiences. Most of the “Star Wars” prequels come to mind as examples. Then, there are movies that make you wonder how they ever saw the light of day, having a terrible premise with
no potential.

Due to the circumstances surrounding it, Paramount’s “Monster Trucks” would seem to be in the latter category. After all, it was pitched in 2013 to a Paramount executive from his then four-year-old son.

In fact, Paramount is preparing for a $115 million loss because it green lighted the idea and released it in January, a time considered a wasteland for new releases.

“Monster Trucks” lives up to the expected disappointment, but there’s also an unexpected charm to the film that keeps it from being a complete monstrosity.

After a drilling accident committed by a greedy oil company (the slimy company’s boss Reece is played by Rob Lowe), prehistoric creatures that are a combination of a beluga whale and an octopus are released onto land by the explosions.

One creature finds its way to a junkyard where adventurous teen mechanic Tripp (Lucas Till) works part-time. After forming an unlikely bond with the creature and discovering that it can work as a living engine for his truck, Tripp names the creature Creech. Along with Meredith (Jane Levy), the nerdy girl who has a crush on Tripp, they work to reunite Creech with his family.

However, Reece sees Creech as evidence of his company’s shoddy ethics. He sends his enforcer Burke (Holt McCallany) to deal with
the problem.

The setup for the story treads old territory that’s already been covered by the likes of “E.T.” It’s a stereotypical narrative of a young kid protecting an innocent creature that’s being hunted  by an evil organization. Despite being a groan-worthy pun, the concept of having a literal monster that powers a monster truck is at least weird enough to somewhat break away from being a mindless carbon copy of the related “rescue the cute creature” films.

While bland yet passable, the plot isn’t the problem that haunts “Monster Trucks.” With such an off-the-wall concept, there was an opportunity for the characters to be written in a way that wasn’t stereotypical of such films. Unfortunately, characters like Tripp and Meredith are about the most boring and confusing leads that could possibly be imagined. Till and Levy are inexplicable casting choices, considering that they actually are in their mid-twenties, taking away any immersion the film could have possibly offered.

On top of that, the audience is never given a convincing reason as to why Meredith has an infatuation with Tripp, considering he ignores her for the first
30-or-so minutes.

Creech, who is supposed to be the driving force (not an intentional pun, I swear) of the film, also isn’t all that interesting. Of course, there’s a limit to how interesting a creature that only grunts and eats oil can be.

At first, he’s somewhat entertaining, causing mischief in the junkyard and trouble for Tripp. But as the film drags on, it becomes apparent that there is no deep or meaningful reason for the audience to be attached to him; it’s just that he’s cute and you should feel bad for him. It’s a particularly manipulative reason.

It also doesn’t help that Reece and Burke are some of the most uninspired antagonists I can think of. They come off as the mustache-twirling types of villains who are over-the-top evil instead of actually intimidating and cut-throat.

While most of the characters in “Monster Trucks” are boring, there’s a surprising amount of depth in Tripp’s relationship with his stepfather and town sheriff Rick (Barry Pepper). At first, he’s portrayed as a stepparent who doesn’t care for his kid and has rocky interactions with Tripp. However, as the film progresses and Tripp’s relationship with his biological father (Frank Whaley) is revealed, the dynamic between Rick and Tripp becomes surprisingly fleshed out, showing a rare instance of
character development.

Another character that has some sort of depth, relative to the rest of the characters, is Dowd (Thomas Lennon), the scientist working for Reece. After giving the go-ahead for the drilling that displaces Creech’s family, he discovers that the creatures are intelligent, forcing him to rethink his position in the company. It’s certainly not spectacular writing, but when it comes to this film, I’ll take whatever type of development I can get.

Even though it seems over-the-top, Tripp riding in the Creech-Truck fits with the overall tone of the film and somehow manages to not appear as completely contrived. Even when Creech lays waste to an entire town with bad driving and climbs buildings with ease, there’s a sense of shock and confusion that’s hard not to laugh at.

When Burke is chasing the main characters during the climax, the film becomes fun to watch because it’s so ridiculous and it’s clearly not taking itself too seriously.

It may seem like I trashed “Monster Trucks.” Make no mistake, it’s a pretty garbage film with little to redeem itself. But it’s hard to completely hate such a weird, off-the-wall type of garbage that tries to do something unique in the face of an established formula. The lesson of this debacle is that Hollywood executives should never take professional advice from their kids again.

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