Friday, May 31, 2013

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

**This review contains spoilers**

Earth is caught in the tail end of rogue comet Rhea-M, and machines suddenly come to life, and turn on their owners and makers by killing them. In Wilmington, North Carolina, those lucky enough to survive the attacks, barricade themselves inside the Dixie Boy truck stop.

Bubba Hendershot (Pat Hingle) is the ruthless and slimy boss at the Dixie Boy, who forces his newest employee and cook, Bill (Emilio Estevez), a recent parolee, to work hours off the clock to save money. And if Bill doesn’t comply with Hendershot’s secret policy for all parolees, Hendershot will do everything in his power to make Bill’s life a living hell. Deke (Holter Graham) arrives late at night for safety inside the Dixie Boy, but upon arrival, he learns about the death of his father, Duncan (J. C. Quinn), a Dixie Stop employee, who was killed earlier in the day by a speeding truck.

With help from his feisty new girlfriend and hitchhiker, Brett (Laura Harrington), Deke, the newlywed Curtis (John Short), a few of the truck drivers, customers, and Dixie Stop employees, Bill plans to fight the machines, and find a safe escape route for the remaining survivors. But temper tantrums from the lone waitress, Wanda (Ellen McElduff) cause some trouble. Connie (Yeardley Smith), Curtis’ new wife, doesn’t like the idea of her husband risking his life to fight the machines, and Bill will have to find a way to seize control of the weapons in Hendershot’s secret and illegal underground armory.

The big rigs form a continuous circle around the entrance to the Dixie Boy, blocking the survivors inside with the promise to run over anything that steps foot outside. The sleazy and perverted Bible salesmen, who gave Brett a ride is stuck in a muddy ditch after one of the trucks backed into him. Loman (Christopher Murney) screams for help in the ditch, until Curtis and Bill attempt a rescue mission. To further complicate the sticky situation, with a bulldozer for protection, a military vehicle armed with an M60 machine gun arrives one morning to make demands for the machines using morse code. Exhausted and beaten, Bill and the other survivors must help refuel the long line of vehicles outside the Dixie Boy.

Taking one last chance at an escape, Bill and the other survivors sneak out through a drainage pipe beneath the Dixie Boy one night, and head to the local marina to find a boat, and sail away from the chaos. But on their way to the marina, the survivors are followed by Handy’s (Frankie Faison) persistent truck with glowing red eyes in the middle of a custom-made Green Goblin face mounted on the grill.

Emilio Estevez was nominated for a Worst Actor Razzie, but I still enjoy his performance. Using the satire approach, Estevez plays the cocky rebel with a thick southern accent, and Laura Harrington’s Brett is a perfect match for the Bill character. Harrington is sassy and fearless, and the switchblade is a nice touch for her character. Hendershot might remind you of a slimy used car salesman, and Hingle is hilarious, when Hendershot decides to pick up the rocket launcher, and blow up anything in his path. And Joey (portrayed by Patrick Miller) is a nice fit for Hendershot’s most loyal employee and bumbling lackey, who lights Hendershot’s cigars with a simple demand.

I don’t think you’ll have any middle ground with Connie and Wanda. They’ll either annoy the shit out of you, or make you laugh throughout the whole movie, but I enjoy Yeardley Smith (“Curtis, don’t make me a widow on my wedding day!”) and Ellen McDuffie (“WE MADE YOU!”).  Oh, and for those of you, who don’t know, Yeardley Smith is the voice of Lisa Simpson. Although, it’s kind of hard to pick up on any similarities to Lisa, because Smith has a thick southern accent here.

Stephen King is the director, he came up with the short story (Trucks) this film is based on, and he has a brief cameo at the beginning (he’s the guy at the ATM, who almost throws a fit, when the ATM calls him an “asshole,” and the machine refuses to dispense cash). King’s directing style is a big target for a lot of the hateful criticisms directed towards Maximum Overdrive, and along with Emilio Estevez, King received a Razzie nomination for Worst Director. Well, truth be told, King has admitted he was “coked out of his mind” while directing Maximum Overdrive. But I don’t have a big problem with King’s directing. His style is bland and basic, but I wouldn’t call King’s work behind the camera clumsy or unfocused.  Bottom line, the complaints are overexaggerated, and I’ve never been able to understand the big outrage behind King’s directing for this film.

The AC/DC soundtrack is a perfect match for Maximum Overdrive. Every song just works, and more importantly, AC/DC’s music  fits within the context of the entire movie. A great “fight or die” soundtrack for survivors going up against a seemingly unstoppable enemy during an apocalyptic calamity. Good stuff.

Maximum Overdrive is a cheesy, over the top, and VERY campy horror comedy with the right amount of blood and gore. Not too extreme or nasty, just right. It’s mindless fun, and if you try and take this one too seriously, chances are you’ll hate Maximum Overdrive with a burning passion. Soda cans from a vending machine are used as projectiles to kill a baseball coach, trucks, that drive themselves are lethal weapons, and a drive-through menu tries to warn the other machines, as the survivors from the Dixie Boy hide for safety. Maximum Overdrive is suppose to be silly and over the top with a cast full of colorful comedy characters.

It’s not in my top ten of Stephen King film adaptations, but Maximum Overdrive ranks high on my list of favorite horror comedies, easily. It’s one of the few horror comedies I can watch over and over again without getting tired of it, and since I bought the DVD a while ago, I watch it at least once a month.

Rating: 6/10

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