Maximum Overdrive (1986)
WRITER: Stephen King
DIRECTOR: Stephen King
STARRING: Emilio Estevez as Bill Robinson
Pat Hingle as Hendershot
Laura Harrington as Brett
Yeardley Smith as Connie
John Short as Curt
Ellen McElduff as Wanda June
Holter Graham as Deke
QUICK CUT: As the Earth passes through the tail of a comet, all our electronics spring to life, or maybe just our trucks, and attack humanity. And by humanity, I mean a tiny truck stop in the middle of nowhere.
Billy - An ex-con who didn't do anything that bad in the grand scheme of things, but now being screwed by the Man. Stuck in a dead end job and treated like garbage, he longs for something different. What he gets is an attack of killer trucks.
Brett - Billy's love interest hitchhiking from somewhere to somewhere else. That's the most amount of character development she gets. Which compared to other characters is a full on three dimensional, well-rounded personality, for this movie.
Hendershot - Bill's boss and the owner of the Dixie Boy truck stop. He's a dick, and a gun nut. Hell, he owns an RPG. Aside from being made a grotesque douchebag, this guy should be the hero.
Connie and Curt - A recently married couple who are as stereotypical as you can get. She's screechy and demanding, and he's the put-upon husband who caters to most of her whims.
THE GUTS: Ahh, time for a Stephen King movie. It's been awhile since Sleepwalkers. I need a movie about people in Maine with daddy issues and non scary things somehow being scary. So of course this movie starts the thrills by giving us a brick of text about the Earth passing through the tail of a comet, a tail it will be stuck in for the next week and change. This is actually important.
And surprisingly, this movie has absolutely zero of King's usual tropes. We're not in Maine, there's none of the kids are awesome, adults are dumb stuff...about the only thing we do get is the horror of trucks and knives.
While it takes a brave man indeed to write and direct his own movie, it's surprising King hasn't tried to do this more often. So many times, his movies get dragged through the muck by other writers and Hollywood in general. Sadly, even though King is handling two sides of the creative process, it does not end up all that different.
I do give him credit for taking the piss by having an ATM machine go crazy right from the get go, and calling him an asshole. He at least has a sense of humour about himself, and does not mind looking the fool on occasion.
The credits kick off, to some great music by AC/DC, as a bunch of people roll innocently over a drawbridge, not knowing how terribly wrong things are about to go. The ATM calling the director an asshole was only the beginning. The controls take over, and activate the bridge on their own, catching people off guard with the unannounced splitting of the bridge.
What follows is a nice mix of car-nage...see what I did there? Vehicles roll back on the incline, bikers fall into the water, and in a gratuitous musician cameo, AC/DC's van gets smashed up too! Cars and trucks pile up...it's like vehicular porn up in here.
It's a great, quick way to show things are going wrong, and just a trickle of how bad they can be at a very human level. As opposed to the plane crashing out of the sky so many other big budget movies love to do.
Elsewhere in the movie, the most iconic thing ever is driving into a middle of nowhere truck stop; a truck for a toy company, with a giant head of Marvel's Green Goblin on the front of it. That is an awesome visual, no joke.
In the diner, we briefly get to meet Billy Robinson, their chef, and I use the term loosely since this IS a middle of nowhere truck stop diner. But before we can really meet this particular Estevez, we jump to the stop's game room, where everything in there is going haywire like every other piece of technology.
Pinball machines are flippering out, cigarette machines are coughing up their packs, and change machines are spitting out money. Silly machines! You'll need that money to buy oil! Who will pay for your electricity, huh??
Even the gas pumps are rebelling, and when the attendant checks them out, they spit gas right into his face. Again, they'll need that later! Machines are dumb.
While Billy the ex-con is getting screwed by his boss, Wanda Sue is filling in for Grilly Billy and the mechanical mischief continues as an electric knife decides it wants a cut of the action, and slices into her poor arm.
The knife falls to the ground without doing too much damage, but it still tries to vibrate across the floor and cut more people up. Billy grabs a hammer and smashes it pretty easily. Again, machines are dumb.
After a guy gets electrocuted in the game room, the movie decides that's enough excitement for one day, and moves over to a little league baseball game. But we do get to see YouTube being born, as the coach tries to get a soda from a vending machine. Rather than dispense it normally, he gets hit in the balls with a can. This video would then go on to have 15 million hits and spawn an entire genre of painful videos.
The machine continues to go on a rampage, firing upon the team, and only one of them has the brains enough to slap on his catcher's mask for protection. Don't worry kid, it'll run out of cans eventually. But instead of waiting it out, he tries to run, and that's when an unmanned steamroller bursts out of nowhere. That he can't outrun, and we get a great scene of him getting squished.
Where's your catcher's mask now??
Back at the diner, a Jack Chick wannabe with a car full of tracts and his hitchhiker pull in after catching a news report on the chaos. He can't keep his hands to himself, so his passenger gives him a piece of her mind, which is more than he had in the first place. The Green Goblin decides it would rather toss the girl off a bridge somewhere, revs up and tries to mow them down. Since the truck is hard to miss, they handily get out of the way, and it rolls to a stop at the edge of the grounds.
Since we don't have enough dispoable characters already to be stabbed, electrocuted, and run over, we meet some newlyweds who pull into a different gas station where they find a dead body.
Because every gas station keeps tons of wrecked cars around, those start coming to life to have fun with the couple. A truck nearly mows down Curt, but we aren't lucky enough to pare back the cast just yet.
Meanwhile, the diner plot resumes with Billy poking around the Green Goblin truck to see what's going on. There are two moments of hilarity here; one in which he uses a pair of keys to defend himself, and another where he crouches behind the living truck as it's turning itself on. Criminals are dumb.
Brett the hitchhiker startles him and probably saves his life for the moment. The two chat, and the Goblin adjusts his mirrors to watch them... Uhh. Just WHAT part of the truck is doing the seeing here? Eyes are a bit of an odd concept on inanimate objects. Even ones with masks.
The lone survivor from the baseball field massacre is biking through town trying to find sanctuary, but all he finds is scene after scene of carnage, where machines went wild and killed their masters. And uh...some of these don't make sense. Like, at all. How would a portable radio kill a guy, short of electrocution? A dog with a toy car in it's mouth? Why not drop it? Ah well.
A bloody lawnmower we catch a glimpse of, now THAT makes some deal of sense, if we must have it. The kid also spies a driverless ice cream truck patroling the neighbourhood for kids, but stays out of sight.
The guy that got gassed in the face back at the diner is the kid's dad, and has plans to try and find his son, despite not being able to see jack or squat. But that's okay, since a truck mows him down before he even gets ten feet. Bet he didn't see that coming!
After that, the truck continues to drive around, and dumps trash on Jack Chick's car, which sends him into a tizzy. While he's yelling at what he thinks is a drunk driver, the Green Goblin decides it's sat around long enough and joins the fun.
Jack tries to run, but gets hit so hard he flies out of his shoes and dumped into a mud hole. With their bloodlust sated, both trucks are polite enough to park themselves back in their spots. Nice of them to do that.
But the trucks get bored after a few minutes and realise, hey! We're bigger than these soft bags of flesh, and they crunch nicely! We have the upper hand here! So, every single truck starts up, and begins circling the truck stop.
Remembering the subplot of the married couple, we find them rolling along an empty stretch of highway, at least on their side of things. On the other side of the road is a long string of trucks heading in the opposite direction. Nice to see the murderous piles of metal follow the rules of the road. At least until one of the trucks decides to chase the not so happy couple.
The truck chases them around, until Curt gets it to lose control and not take a sharp corner, and it starts careening down a hill. And...uh... It bursts into flames the instant it goes off the road. Now, I'm used to this from Hollywood. We all are. But to explode long before it hits anything? Was it equipped with a self destruct mechanism if it ever left pavement? What about dirt roads? Why, movie, why??
...At least it was a cool explosion.
Finally they arrive at the rest of the plot, and stare at the circling trucks. Curt sees a gap he thinks he can get through. They don't quite make it though, and a truck clips them. Billy and friends rush out to save them from the flipped car which thankfully did NOT explode like every other vehicle in Hollywood, and they rush for cover in the diner. The trucks try and follow, but the owner...has a bazooka he uses to destroy a truck.
And why he did not do that 30 minutes ago is anyone's guess. Also, damnit, if you have a rocket launcher that blows trucks up, you do not stop at two, you keep exploding shit until they are all dead!
Most movies have that moment where they sneak the title into the dialogue. Some work, some don't. This movie finally gets around to it, when Brett says all the vehicles in the world have gone into Maximum Overdrive. That one...does not work. That is so forced.
After we check in with the little leaguer hiding from an unmanned plane, we jump back to Billy trying to find out just what kind of firepower this truck stop is hiding. All undercut with one of the attendants taking a dump. Classy! Then again, this IS Stephen King.
Billy finds Hendershot's cache of weapons downstairs, and the two have a pointless confrontation where the owner threatens the convict some more, which is extremely stupid because this is all about getting away from the gigantic two ton trucks circling them. Sure, let's NOT use the explosives and heavy artillery. That makes sense. If you're a dick.
Hendershot also tells Brett about Billy's criminal past, and then he spills the beans on just what he did...but we don't really care about that, do we?
We finally have all our various plots come together when the kid shows up at the diner, although he's not dumb enough to try and get closer on foot. Still, at least he's on the scene. Meanwhile inside, Billy and Brett have just had "probably dead by morning" sex, and they notice the strange green glow in the sky, theorising it must be the comet, and that's why the trucks are rampagin. See, something the movie didn't really need to tell us in a text brick...
Since they figure they only gotta live for the next week, Billy schemes to head out to a little island in Maine called Haven, and hang out without any motors for the time being. Yeah, great idea, but do you really wanna deal with their Troubles?
The rest of the survivors are killing time in the diner, not having sex, until the waitress who almost lost an arm flips her shit and runs outside to yell at the trucks and make it clear who the masters are. And the acting is baaad. I give a lot of leeway for screaming acting, but even with that allowance, this is over the top in all the worst ways.
Not surprisingly, a truck tries to run her over, but not before Billy pulls her back inside to safety. The truck stops outside and...wait. Why? They could easily turn that place into bloody kindling. They later explain the trucks don't want to fall through the floor from their weight, but still.
And that's the moment when someone remembers that hey! The diner has lights, and things, and electricity! So that suddenly decides to come to life now and turn all the lights off on them. Another, "Why now" question here.
Outside, they hear the bible thumper declaring he's not dead yet, and thinks he'll go for a pilgrimage. On the other side of the road, the kid peels off the grating on a culvert to sneak under the road. Why he didn't do this earlier... All this is going on, while more trucks drive down the road, gathering. Which leads me to question, why here, but at this point, my caring is lessening...
Billy and Curtis manage to sneak across the parking lot to the restrooms, miraculously unseen, and work to remove a manhole cover in the small building, to try and sneak further along to the injured religious nut.
Despite all this effort, and crawling through what passes for their sewers, the kid is the one who reaches Jack Chick Lite first, but it's still too late, since he's back to looking pretty much dead. Which plays well when he suddenly jumps up and grabs the kid. This is probably the biggest scare in the movie, sadly.
So everyone comes together at last, and the bible thumper IS dead this time. No, really. They say it and everything. So, they jerked us around and dragged this out, for what? Get the kid across the street? There must've been better ways.
They get chased more by one of the trucks, and blow that one up too, which again makes me question why they just don't pick these things off and get it over with!
After a long night, the sun comes up, and the trucks outside stop. Deke sees something coming down the road though, and wakes people up to see what's going down.
An earthmover shows up to start clearing the smoldering truck corpses out of the way, as well as a small platform vehicle with a gun mounted on it. And they're going to fire that...how? Does this movie have any rules that it sticks to for more than five minutes?
As the gun turret stands by, the earthmover pushes one of the cars into the wall of the diner. Because a truck couldn't do that, I guess. In my head, the intelligence behind the earthmover just turned to the others and shouted, "THAT is how you do it, idjits!!"
Hendershot gets out his trusty rocket launcher and shoots the bulldozer, and naturally he gets shot by the gun. Which again, makes no sense. But it keeps firing, and takes out three other nameless faces in the crowd. So long people we didn't know nor care about!
Crazy waitress Wanda loses it again, picks up the rocket launcher and yells more at the vehicles, which just earns her some bullets of her own. And despite holding a single shot weapon we never saw reloaded, and holding it by the barrel and not the trigger, another rocket is somehow launched and destroys another truck.
Then the little army vehicle starts beeping out Morse code. Because it knows that, because it's in the army. Uhhh. I'm done asking by this point, seriously.
Deke has the power of translation, and writes out the message. The vehicles demand fuel, naturally. At least THAT question was thought through. Kinda.
So Billy volunteers to do the job, since the gun turret could get bored at any moment, and better to stay alive and hopefully wait out the week.
Billy goes up to the Goblin and has a talk with it, telling the truck to pass along the word that the buffet is open. Yes, a scene where Emilio Estevez has a conversation with a truck. That has the face of the Green Goblin slammed on it's cab. Let this mental image sink in.
And that at least gives some explanation why all the trucks are driving here, to get filled up. But you know what would have solved that problem? Not driving all this way to a gas station! But we get a montage of the gang filling up trucks as they all come from miles around. And why are cars seemingly unaffected? I know, I know, I said I'd stop...
If that wasn't enough for ya, the gas runs out. And there is still a huge line of trucks stretching down the highway. When Bill informs the trucks of this, they start advancing on him. Oh yes. Emilio has a standoff with a truck. That's kinda awesome. Especially since the truck gets right up on him, and stays there, no matter how much he backs up. That takes care and percision, and would have been done with CG or green screen these days.
That's when we find out one of the trucks is a tanker, and it makes Billy refill the station's supply, so the human servitude can continue. At least until he almost passes out from the heat.
Having had enough of this crap, the fleshlings decide to make a break for it, and explain that the pipe Deke couldn't get in earlier was to the sewers for the main diner, not the rest rooms across the parking lot. Oh good, some sense returns.
Billy uses a distraction, and a grenade, to blow up the gun transport, which I'm surprised it took them this long to even bother. It wasn't like it was the most threatening thing in the world. Not really.
Meanwhile, all the trucks just continue circling. They don't even flinch at their exploded little buddy. What a bunch of cold, unfeeling machines. ...Oh wait.
As night falls, everyone sneaks out through the drain pipes. The trucks randomly decide to crash through the diner. Now, you could say this is motivated by the exploded gun, but why now? Why wait for nightfall? Not after it happened? You know what the force is driving all these vehicles? Plot convenience, and nothing more.
But hey, at least it leads to destruction, so that's a plus, right?
And the capper is, the truck stop explodes because a hydrogen tank springs a leak and I guess it sparks. So, the humans are free and escaping, the trucks have all driven off, and they go their separate ways.
The fleshbags end up at a nearby diner, where a drive thru speaker starts shouting at them. Deke shoots that out as the ice cream truck from earlier arrives. Curtis and Brett put enough bullets into it to make it explode and...yeah, bullets don't work that way.
Billy leads them all to a boat so they can make good their escape plan, but as one of them decides to steal a giant diamond ring from a dead woman, the Green Goblin arrives.
Fortunately, Billmilio has one last rocket, and they get to take out one last truck. So...yay? Does that count as a final confrontation with the bad guy? They still have five days to go. There's way more vehicles and electricity out there. Is...is this a happy ending? I don't know.
The movie crawls to a close with another brick of text letting us know that a UFO was destroyed by a Russian satellite, and six days later, the Earth passed out of the comet's tail. Um...okay, thanks? What does the UFO have to do with anything? Was that the cause of the trucks and not the comet? Why bring aliens into this now? Did the attacking electronics stop then? Or after the comet went away? Or never? The movie doesn't tell us. Talk about a non climax.
Video: Not a bad one this time out. A budget, a theatrical release. Definitely good for something from the 80s.
Audio: A solid surround mix, and that works well with vehicles spinning around you, and AC/DC music. Which the movie needed more of and not just a few songs and musical cues.
First Blood: The guy in the game room bit it by electrocution 13 minutes into the film. 13 minutes! Woooo!
Best Corpse: How do you not love a kid getting smooshed by a steamroller?
Blood Type - C+: The movie only has a little bit of blood, gore, and effects, but the quality is generally good.
Sex Appeal: Topless Billy and Brett post-sex.
Movie Review: I have fond memories of seeing this movie as a kid, although I don't think I ever saw the whole thing. If I did, the memories faded into the distance. And it's a good movie for the younger set who just want to watch some fun carnage, but...the movie is pretty bad. There is zero logic here. The explanations of what is going on are the barest, thinnest explanations, and may not even be the right ones. There are gigantic plotholes large enough to drive the Green Goblin through. The acting is subpar, although Estevez does a good job. But when the characters are so paper thin, and never really developed, you just don't care when they get run over or shot. King does a decent enough job for a first time director, but there's nothing special here. Two out of five rocket launchers.
Entertainment Value: But really. Did you expect a good movie? This is a movie where trucks come to life and terrorise a small band of humans. Who cares about their personalities? Who cares about plot holes and logic? TRUCKS THAT LOOK LIKE THE GREEN GOBLIN TERRORISING HUMANS. If the utter ludicrious nature of this plot does not fill you with joy, you have no soul. Get out! The kills are fun, and you want every single one of them to come along, as you're rooting for most of these dickish people to die horribly. This is popcorn cinema, plain and simple. If anything, it gets too bogged down in plot, not letting the goofiness truly sing. Three out of five Estevezes.