'Monster Trucks': Film Review

Runs on regurgitated fumes.

Lucas Till and Rob Lowe are among the live-action players in Chris Wedge's hybrid CG-animated clunker.

Hey, how about monster trucks with ... wait for it ... real monsters in them? Cool, right?

That’s essentially the gist of the pitch in search of an actual plot that is Monster Trucks, a tone-deaf mix of live action and computer-generated animation that never engagingly clicks into gear.

Directed by Chris Wedge, who launched the wildly successful Ice Age franchise back in 2002, this high-concept, low-octane lemon will likely struggle to find an appreciative juvenile audience when it pulls into the traditional January movie junkyard on Friday the 13th (following frequent rescheduling and a head start in a number of overseas territories).

Screenwriter Derek Connolly (Jurassic World) was obviously aiming for a throwback '80s Steven Spielberg/Joe Dante vibe with this story about a teen (Lucas Till) whose small-town life receives a shot of adrenaline with the arrival of a gas-guzzling creature from the earth’s underbelly who was displaced by an oil company’s drilling operation.

Living with his mom (Amy Ryan) and her sheriff boyfriend (Barry Pepper), Tripp escapes from his problems at Danny Glover’s character's junkyard, where he scavenges for parts for the pickup truck he’s been trying to get up and running. He ends up attaining maximum speed with the slimy giant sea-lion-type creature he’s named Creech, who is fond of hiding under his truck’s hood and wrapping his tentacles around the axles — which is helpful for outrunning the oil firm’s evil boss (Rob Lowe), who is intent on achieving containment at any cost.

There’s some sort of renewable resources lesson buried in here somewhere, but, like everything else in the story, the filmmakers never commit to an overriding theme or mood long enough to make a connection with the viewer. Even Creech — behaviorally more of a greasy Gremlin than a subterranean E.T. — fails to manifest the requisite rapport with Tripp to justify the necessary audience identification.

While Wedge’s animation background comes in handy during some inventive chase sequences (shot in rural British Columbia), Monster Trucks is otherwise a clunky nonstarter.

Distributor: Paramount
Production companies: Paramount Animation, Disruption Entertainment, Nickelodeon Movies
Cast: Lucas Till, Rob Lowe, Jane Levy, Danny Glover, Barry Pepper, Amy Ryan, Thomas Lennon
Director: Chris Wedge
Screenwriter: Derek Connolly
Producers: Mary Parent, Denis L. Stewart
Executive producers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Cale Boyter
Director of photography: Don Burgess
Production designer: Andrew Menzies
Costume designer: Tish Monaghan
Music: David Sardy
Editor: Conrad Buff

Rated PG, 104 minutes