Monster Trucks and the marvel of confounded expectations

Mix them all together and voilà — instant aneurism!

Monster Trucks: That’s Scott Marks on the right, grinning in surprise
  • Monster Trucks: That’s Scott Marks on the right, grinning in surprise

I’m not sure which is a more salient critical experience: disappointed expectations (The Nice Guys), fulfilled expectations (Mad Max: Fury Road), or confounded expectations (John Wick).

Monster Trucks trailer

I’m thinking the second, just because it’s so rarefied an experience, but the third is tempting, too: it’s joyously discombobulating to find gold where you expected manure. I’m pretty sure it happened to Reader critic Scott Marks last year with the horror prequel Ouija: Origin of Evil, but I know it happened here in the January doldrums, with a film that was blamed for a $115 million writedown at Paramount before it was even released: Monster Trucks. I know because Marks had his rotten tomatoes ready way back in June of last year, when he posted the following at The Big Screen:

  • My buddy John Albert posted a link to the trailer for the inescapable Monster Trucks with the following comment on my Facebook wall: “Remember this, the next time anybody says that Hollywood ought to stop rehashing old movie properties and just come up with some new ideas...”
  • Why bother with originality, John? Isn’t it time you supported Hollywood’s Green Movement? Think of all the multiplex garbage out there in need of reusing and recycling that would ultimately reduce an audience’s capacity to store waste. It’s cheaper and more effective than a lobotomy.
  • Recycling: A Recipe for Excess

  • 1 Jeep Ad (product placement hits the screen before the Paramount logo)
  • 1 X-Kid who could pass for a taller, younger Matt Damon (Lucas Till)
  • 1 Accredited Scream Princess (Evil Dead)/Comic Relief (Fun Size) to star as girlfriend (Jane Levy)
  • 4 Generic Thugs to add conflict
  • 1 “From the Creators of” tagline, in this case the inclined to deliquesce (Ice Age)
  • 1 Lovable Amorphous CG Alien (a pinch of a two-eyed B.O.B. from Monsters vs. Aliens finds Nemo’s Bruce — or is it Jabberjaw?)
  • 1 Transforming Pixar-ish Pickup to hold the Bay at audiences
  • 1 Director and Voice of “Skrat” (Christian Wedge) calling the shots
  • 1 Slice of National Velveeta (GF is an equestrian)
  • 1 Selfie (kids love selfies)
  • 1 Belch (who doesn’t enjoy a well-played spasmodic eruption?)
  • 1 Dime (in case the monster needs to phone home)
  • 2 Recognizable Faces (condolences to Danny Glover and Thomas Lennon)
  • Ideal running time: 78 minutes (Monster Trucks clocks in at 122 minutes)
  • Mix them all together and voilà — instant aneurism! The good news is they’re burying it, but I promise to be there next January for the Friday the 13th premiere.

Oof. But Marks was as good as his word about attending that premiere, and by Monday, he had processed his shock and awe to the point where he was able to post the following three-star (!) review:

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Monster Trucks 3.0

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  • Animator Chris Wedge’s (Ice Age, Robots) first feature with a human cast successfully mixes live action and animation to produce a family film that isn’t a monstrous trek. High school senior Tripp (Lucas Till), eager to shake the dust of his crummy little town off his feet, spends his free time combing junkyards for the parts needed to slap together a janky pickup. An accident at the local oil-drilling company releases the good-natured tentacled blob named Creech, a flubbery, oil metabolizing creature that attaches itself to the Trippmobile’s undercarriage. Originally slated for a May 2015 opening, the release date was regularly pushed back to accommodate post-production work. When Viacom took a hit in its third-quarter earnings for 2016, Monster Trucks took the blame. Too bad, because audiences could do (and have done) a lot worse than this genial throwback to a time when Kurt Russell was Disney’s #1 living, breathing attraction. With Jane Levy as Tripp’s saucer-eyed love interest.

Maybe we should look into creating a “genial throwback” genre. I used the same sort of language to explain my surprise and enthusiasm over last year’s rescue-at-sea drama The Finest Hours. It’s either that or the sequel-reboot nightmare world of Godfather IV: Zombie Corleone. “Just when I thought I was in my grave...they pull me back out.”

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