Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Maximum Overdrive
Fucked if I know, Bubba. Fucked if I know.
It’s been a while since I did a Vault review as I’ve been attempting to be a bit classier in terms of my viewing choices. However, having said that, I did decide to launch an apocalypse series and stupidly asked for suggestions below the line. Amongst all of them, Maximum Overdrive stood out as something I’d always meant to watch but never really got round to. So, up it came, and having watched it, it’s not apocalypse material, but it does fit right in to the Vault as a massive, cheesy, lump of unashamed Schlock.
Contains death by coke machine and spoilers below.
In terms of pedigree, Maximum Overdrive really has no business at all being in the vault. By the early 80’s Stephen King was arguably the world’s pre-eminent Horror writer, with books being sold by the skip load and adaptations of works such as Carrie and The Shining being turned into remarkably classy films. Maximum Overdrive represents a logical progression for King in moving from writing to writing and directing a movie. Unfortunately, for all concerned, King was developing a serious coke habit that would turn so nasty it would result in gigantic messes such as The Tommyknockers. So, on one hand, we’ve got undisputed Master of Horror, Stephen King, and on the other we’ve got a drug crazed nutter. Guess which one directed Maximum Overdrive.
We’re helpfully told at the start of the film that the earth is passing through the tail of a comet. Leaving science aside for a minute, because who gives a fuck about that in one of these films, the unfortunate side effect is that all machines on the planet will go haywire and start to eliminate humanity (helpfully described as the comet being “like a broom” there to sweep us all away). This leads to the highly, highly entertaining opening third whereby a series of victims are offed by ordinarily mundane objects. High among the hilarity is the death by Coke Machine, and the ATM calling people “asshole”.
Interspersed among the hilarity is the main cast of characters of the film, a dreary bunch of King-ian archetypes trapped in a truck stop being menaced by a series of out-of-control trucks. These include Emilio Estevez’s fry cook Bill, usefully signposted as being on parole or some such, and Yeardley Smith’s Connie, a newlywed in the passenger seat of the only functional car in the world, and a kid mourning the death of his father. They’re being menaced by a load of angry trucks, seemingly led by a Toy truck with a big scary green goblin attached to the fender.
Eventually shit escalates, and our heroes realise they’re slaves to the machines mankind created. Formulating a cunning plan, they escape to the docks to sail to an island with no machinery on it (say whut?) and Bill destroys the gobbo-truck with a rocket launcher. Incidentally, I seem to have watched lots of stuff with rocket launchers featuring prominently recently, not that that’s relevant to anything. A useful postscript tells us that it was in fact invisible aliens hiding in the tail of the comet at the controls of the machines (confirming the speculation of the characters) and the “invasion” ends when a USSR weather satellite nukes the invisible UFO.
I see this as a film of two parts, in terms of entertainment, anyway. The first part (the good part) involves the mechanised rampage, some great imagery, and a soundtrack provided by, fittingly, AC/DC. The bad part, however, involves all the stuff at the truck stop, the boring and unlikable characters, and the immensely mundane last third of the movie.
And this is the big problem with the film. As with any coke-fueled binge, all the momentum, creativity and energy is burnt up early on, leaving a drab and listless comedown following in its wake. It’s particularly clear here that from about the half way stage we’re going to see nothing as entertaining as the mechanised carnage of the first third. Furthermore, it’s also apparent that we’re going to be spending our time stuck in a truck stop with boring and unlikable arseholes for the remainder of the film.
While the writing does our main crew no favours, this is compounded by the acting. Sure, the characters may as well all have “Cliché” stamped on their foreheads, but it’s evident that King had no idea at all how to draw decent performances from the cast. Estevez, who can be and is likable in a diverse range of films, is particularly annoying, turning in a performance best described as “posturing”. It’s doubly bad for the film as it’s evident that he’s our “hero”, and given his back-story, I’m half convinced he’s meant to have a redemptive arc that neither the script nor the performance can deliver.
Overall, blah. I’ve already referred to the film as being the cinematic equivalent of a coke binge, and really, that’s all I’ve got to say about it. The first third is entertaining and crazy (in a good way), but once the meat of the film starts the comedown kicks in. I’m not surprised that King never ventured behind the camera again, because he’s clearly not cut out to be a director. Because of the highly amusing carnage, and (frankly) the overblown and nutty AC/DC soundtrack, it’s very hard to hate Maximum Overdrive, but it’s also very hard to love it. I’m going straight down the middle with 2 goblin faces out of a possible 4.
I mean for fuck’s sake, it’s about an invasion by invisible aliens and machines on the rampage set to AC/-fucking-DC. It should be more entertaining than this. Oh, and the reason it’s not in the apocalypse series, is because this isn’t an apocalypse: it’s a minor inconvenience.