Monster Trucks **Dir: Chris Wedge. With: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Rob Lowe, Amy Ryan. 104 mins. Cert: PG
Here’s one of those barely-there studio timewasters that exists chiefly as a pun and a pitch – Fast & Furious for preteens, Transformers without the leering – bulked out with a thick carapace of pixels. Somewhere within that, there’s a workably goofy comic-strip premise: high-school loser Trip (Lucas Till, buffed to the point of blandness) gets to leave his rivals and troubles for dust after a gas-guzzling extra-terrestrial squid assumes residence beneath the bonnet of his battered pick-up.
Switching to live action fifteen years after directing the first Ice Age, Chris Wedge hits upon pockets of mild throwback charm. The alien lifeforms bash out Close Encounters notes on one of those old Simon memory games; inevitably, there’s an E.T.-like scene in which Trip and pals have to race away from the armed minions of Rob Lowe’s evil oil-drilling empire. (Green viewers might applaud were it not for the attempt, via the squid, to make fuel consumption appear cute and cuddly.)
It is very mild, however – its stunt driving forever more functional than exciting – and the emphasis on petrolheaded boys and their big, big toys leaves the women in the over-qualified cast with precious little to do: Jane Levy has to dial down her usual intelligence and wit to fit the role of adoring love interest, while erstwhile Academy Award nominee Amy Ryan has but half a scene in the retro-regressive role of “Mom”. It has tentacles and hot wheels, yes, but not the legs or bright ideas to sustain itself.
Monster Trucks opens in cinemas nationwide today.