The first thing you will immediately notice about director Chris Wedge's latest film - Monster Trucks" - is that the protagonist, Tripp, is the oldest looking teenager in the history of old looking teenagers. That is because he is played by 26-year old Lucas Till (Havok from "X-Men"). From there the film remains in the fast lane on a downhill slope to crap.


The film is a commentary on the exploration of oil and its impact on the environment. It takes place in North Dakota (though it is filmed in nearby British Columbia) where the controversial Keystone Pipeline is causing a stir. So this immediately is a case of the environment against the big bad oil company.


The story was developed by Matt Robinson, Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger who add an slant of Steven Spielberg's "E.T." replacing the cute alien with a newly discovered species.

The film opens with the big bad oil company drilling for an opening over a huge underground lake of oil. They encounter a layer of strata that happens to be an underground lake and, despite cautions about environmental impact, the project director Reece (Rob Lowe) gives the green light to continue drilling. [Note: Lowe's character arms his trucks antitheft alarm, despite the fact he is parking it a company site in the middle of nowhere.]


While drilling, something happens and three creatures are sucked out of the underground water lake. Two are captured, one gets away. Because the big bag oil company doesn't want to shut down the drilling to record the discovery, they go on an extensive creature hunt. What they don't know is the creature winds up in a junk yard at which Tripp works. The owner of the garage is Mr. Weathers (Danny Glover) who has Tripp as his man to crush the cars for scrap.


Tripp almost immediately discovers the creature who he names Creech. Creech it turns out eats and thrives on oil, thus the reason why he was found in the lake over the oil field. Creech also likes to dwell inside an old engineless truck owned by Tripp, that he hopes to restore.

Creech, is extremely inteligent and figures out that he can move the truck by wrapping its tentacle like appendages around the wheel axles and spinning them. Tripp is now satisfied that he has an engine for his truck.


Tripp has two backstories. The first is his mother's relationship with the local sheriff (Barry Pepper) who has issues with Tripp. It seems Tripp is too much like his estranged father. There is also a local girl named Meredith (Jane Levy who plays in the recent "Don't Breathe") who is smitten with Tripp. She too is an old looking teenager making them the perfect couple.


The rest of the film is the all too typical evil adults against the good "kids" and the good kids outsmarting them at every turn. Like "E.T." and "Earth to Echo", the kids are trying to protect a harmless entity from certain doom.


The problems with the story and the casting are bad enough, but also Creech is hardly the cuddly critter like E.T. Add to that, Creech eats oil; not Cracker Jacks and Doritos like E.T., but smelly putrid oil. Though Creech does a couple of humorous things, it isn't a creature that movie goers will embrace. Children may find it amusing but little else.


It must be because of Wedge's success with earlier films like "Ice Age" that he was able to get a $125 million production budget. Paramount will be hard pressed to get a return.


"Monster Trucks" is typical of the annual winter season, non-stop crap-o-rama with unbelievably poor casting and a story that has been told far too many times.   -- GEOFF BURTON