Monday, July 12, 2010

Maximum Overdrive

While orbiting around the Sun, minding its own business, the Earth passes through the tail of a comet.  I think we all know what happens next: inanimate objects come to life with homicidal tendencies.  Yes, lawnmowers, electric knives, power cords, and especially vehicles all take on a life of their own and begin to kill humans.  Like many great movies, this one takes a global disaster and personalizes it.  The film focuses on a group of people trapped by circling semi trucks at a North Carolina truck stop.  Can they escape without becoming road kill?

That is the basic story of Maximum Overdrive, directed by author Stephen King and based on his short story, Trucks.  If you think this movie sounds bad, trust that instinct.  It's pretty terrible.  In fact, this is the only directorial effort from Stephen King; he claims to have been coked out of his mind while making it, which might explain a few things.  While certainly not an Oscar contender, this is a surprising change of pace from most adaptations of King's work.  For one, it sounds stupid.  And it is.  Want proof?  AC/DC made the soundtrack.  But most of King's story premises are pretty dumb, when you think about them; he just plays up the suspense and seriousness to make them seem less ridiculous (Christine, Cujo, and The Running Man are all good examples of this).  This movie, though, is aware of how stupid it is and plays up its humor and campiness.  Is that a good choice?  Maybe not, but it could have been much worse.

Undoubtedly, this movie's biggest strength is Emilio Estevez as the hero, Bill.  Bill is an ex-convict (or ex-juvie kid or's really not important) that works as a cook for Bubba (Pat Hingle).  Estevez doesn't have much to work with, but he manages to not sound like a complete idiot when he someone says things like "Jesus is coming, and he's pissed!"  Despite quality lines like that, Estevez is clearly the most charismatic actor in the movie, which serves as a reminder that he was actually half-decent in the 80s.

The movie's story isn't very good (obviously), but it has a lot of kinda goofy stuff in it.  The first line of the movie is delivered by Stephen King himself: "Honeybun, this [ATM] machine just called me an asshole!"  Not terribly clever, but it sets the tone for the movie pretty well.  Bubba is a shady guy, forcing his staff of ex-cons to work unpaid hours by threatening to report violations to their parole officers.  Not surprisingly (well, not in this movie, anyway), Bubba illegally sells guns.  Not just any guns, but uzis, grenades, rocket launchers and the like.  As you might imagine, that turns out to be pretty convenient when fighting semis.  Also interesting is the newly married couple (including Yeardley Smith of The Simpsons, whose voice is grating at best here), who manage to have the only car in the world that is not trying to kill its owners.  Instead, they drive to the truck stop for safety; being surrounded by trucks is apparently better than just pulling over on the highway and hiding in the woods.  The best part of this movie is the clincher at the end.  SPOILER: It turns out that all this was caused by aliens, as the first stage in a massive invasion.  AND EMILIO ESTEVEZ FIGURED THAT OUT ON HIS OWN.  Of course!  Why didn't I think of that?  Luckily, the end credits tell us that Soviet lasers take care of the threat for us.  So, I guess this is an 80s movie that makes the USSR heroes.  How about that?

Is this movie good?  Not even close.  It does, however, embrace its own stupidity with enthusiasm.  Even common sense stuff, like "don't give the killer semis gasoline when they run out" is ignored and justified.  You need stupidity of the boldest kind to even think of that, but bold stupidity is what this movie has in spades.  It's not quite fun enough to be awesomely bad (and therefore, fun to watch), but it's close.  I don't blame those that enjoy this movie.  I just think they need to get out more.

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