Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

When a comet passes Earth, all the machines suddenly take on a mind of their own…they come to life and set about slaughtering the planet’s population. Everything from cars, trucks, lawnmowers and electric knives go on a bloody rampage. A few good folks over at the Dixie Boy truck stop, led by Billy (Emilio Estevez), hole up and try to survive the killer machines and the big rigs circling the truck stop as they plan their escape.

More comedy than horror or sci-fi, Maximum Overdrive is enjoyed to the fullest extent if you know what to expect. Sure, it’s cheesy and nonsensical, but it has killer big rigs!!

When the movie first came out, it was slammed by critics across the board, but with good reason. Maximum Overdrive has humongous plot holes, bad acting, horribly annoying characters and bad writing. This is odd, because it was adapted from Stephen King’s short story Trucks by King himself. Besides writing duties, King also made his directorial debut (and, unfortunately, his last…King would never direct again).

With all these counts against it, you might be wondering how on earth I could ever recommend anything so poorly written and acted? Let me tell you, it’s all about the action sequences and its fun, no-holds-barred feel. From the opening sequence of a draw bridge going up of its own accord and tossing cars one on top of the other to an ATM machine with an attitude problem, Maximum Overdrive delivers!

It also doesn’t shy away from the blood and gore, something that almost got it slapped with an X rating at the time. A soda vending machine attacks a group of baseball playing kids, torpedoing its cans at full speed toward their little bodies. A steamroller goes after said kids, flattening one in the process. There are plenty of scenes of people getting run over, plus electrocutions, people getting gunned down and so on.

Let’s not forget about the explosions either. It seems that the shady owner of the Dixie Boy kept quite an arsenal of weapons at hand, including a rocket launcher. We get to see plenty of huge trucks go kablooey! Countless other explosions, fireballs and daring escapes populate the movie and keep it fun (also keeping our minds off glaring plot holes).

The action is backed by the soundtrack, composed entirely of AC/DC songs. AC/DC was handpicked by King to be featured exclusively on the soundtrack and their music complements the film’s fun and wild tone wonderfully.

As mentioned before, Maximum Overdrive has its problems. For one, it features acting that is mediocre to grating, with notable actors including Emilio Estevez as an expressionless “hero” and a screechy and annoying Yeardley Smith (voice of Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons). Nothing much more should be said of the acting, with the only thing worse being the characters themselves. Having no sympathy for anyone really makes you root for total destruction by the machines!

Also, the story is full of plot holes. For example, big rigs and other cars have a mind of their own, but one characters’ car never misbehaves. While the story has a strong start, it quickly sags when the focus shifts to the self-propelled big rigs circling the Dixie Boy. The dialogue and interactions between the characters seem pretty ridiculous, but you could also chalk that up to all the hammy acting (one of the most cringe-worthy being when a waitress wails at the machines, “WHO MADE YOU?!? WE MADE YOU!!”).

Surprisingly, King does a pretty good job at directing, and the direction actually ends up elevating the film rather than taking away from it. There are some nice shots here that emphasize the creepiness of big rigs and other equipment operating on its own. I also loved the scene where a young survivor is pedaling through his corpse-strewn neighborhood.

If you’re hankering for a good old fashioned smash ‘em and bash ‘em up flick (where the smashing and bashing is for the most part done by big rigs) that’s all fluff and fun, grab a few beers and your friends to settle in with Maximum Overdrive. If nothing else you can make a drinking game out of it and chug anytime you hear any variation of, “Who made you?!”

Available on Amazon!

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