Me and Lil’ Stevie’s Second Annual Holiday Turkey Shoot
Featuring This Year’s Turkey:
MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986)
Review by Peter Dudar
(EXTERIOR/NIGHT: Establishing shot of the Dixie Boy truck stop in North Carolina. There is a convoy of heavy-duty semis circling around the building and gas pumps, some honking their horns furiously while others belch out clouds of toxic diesel smoke. Overhead, the night sky is lit an ominous monster-green by vapors from the tail of a comet that is passing by. Every now and then we hear the sound of people screaming in terror from inside the Dixie Boy. One truck, a long, sleek black rig with the fiberglass visage of the Green Goblin attached to the front rolls to a stop in front of the café’s doors. The door of the truck’s cab flies open, and a figure climbs out. Camera zooms in and we see that it’s a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror Stephen King.
Peter: Greetings, Constant Viewer, and welcome to our second annual Holiday Turkey Shoot. Today, we’ll be examining King’s self-written directorial debut MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, adapted from his short story “Trucks,” which appeared in the story collection NIGHT SHIFT (1976).
Lil’ Stevie: Actually, TRUCKS appeared first in Cavalier in 1973.
Peter: Regardless, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE happens to be one of his fans’ least favorite movies of all time. The film won King TWO Golden Raspberry Awards (for Worst Film and Worst Director), and is ranked at 17% favorability at RottenTomatoes.com. Conversely, the adaptation of MISERY (1990) is ranked at 90% favorability, which shows an extraordinary discrepancy for disapproval. It’s our job to dissect this film and figure out what went wrong. And then, we can finally put MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE out of its misery…so to speak.
Lil’ Stevie: I don’t understand all the bad hype. This movie actually kinda kicks ass!
Peter: Hey, what’s that white powder all around your nose? Holy cow…are you on cocaine?
Lil’ Stevie: Of course not! I swiped some powdered donuts from the Dixie Boy before we started the review.
Peter: (Shaking his head) Well, you’d better not be tweaking. Let’s get started. The film opens with a man approaching an ATM machine at a bank in Wilmington, North Carolina. The digital time and temperature sign above the door begins flashing out filthy messages, and the man at the ATM is called an A*****E by the computer screen.
Lil’ Steve: King cameo! The dude at the ATM is actually Stephen King.
Peter: Yeah, that was pretty gratuitous to put himself in the first scene of the film, and give himself the first line. Meanwhile, across town, a drawbridge decides to switch itself on while a pair of incompetent bridge technicians pays no attention whatsoever. The bridge begins to ascend, to the terror of the motorists stuck on the bridge (the traffic light never turned red, so people just kept driving across). It’s a pretty nifty scene in spite of more gratuitous nods (such as the van with the AC/DC logo stenciled on it…the band supplied the music to the soundtrack). We see people thrown through windshields as cars begin slipping down into other cars, and a watermelon truck losing its load as the bridge’s gears continue to turn. We see a truck tip over the chasm of the separated bridge ends, and plunge into the river below (an enormous fear of mine, personally).
Lil’ Stevie: We also see a Little League game turn into a nightmare when the coach is attacked by a rogue soda machine and pelted with high-velocity soda cans to the groin and face. A steamroller crashes through the outfield gate and crushes a fleeing player into a bloody pulp. One of the players, Deke Keller (Holter Graham, SIX WAYS TO SUNDAY, 1997), escapes the carnage and races home.
Peter: Meanwhile, back here at the Dixie Boy, we’re introduced to owner Bubba Hendershot (Pat Hingle, Commissioner Gordon from the 80s BATMAN franchise), and his crew of truck stop deviants. It appears that Bubba takes on parolees as employees, and then blackmails them into working unpaid hours. Can you say “douche bag?”
Lil’ Stevie: Serves ‘em right for breaking the law…and for not being unionized. Go Union!
Peter: Short order cook Billy Robinson (Emilio Estevez, Brat Pack Dropout) is one of the poor slobs that is being chipped on Bubba’s racket. The little gold star sticker on his timecard is all the reminder he needs to keep in line or go back to the hoosegow.
Lil’ Stevie: Great writing, I tell ya!
Peter: We’re slowly introduced to more characters, all of which seem like clichéd caricatures. Deke’s dad, Duncan Keller (J.C. Quinn, BARFLY, 1987) is a pump jockey and grease monkey here at the Dixie Boy. Waitress Wanda June (Ellen McElduff, JFK, 1991), is another parolee under Bubba’s thumb. There’s a handful of truckers milling about, each of whom have a higher waist size than I.Q. These people are all easily forgettable, and offer nothing in terms of building empathy.
Lil’ Stevie: We’re also introduced to Brett (Laura Harrington, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, 1997), a drifter who rolls into town after thumbing a ride with bible salesman Camp Loman (Christopher Murney, the greasy white guy in Berry Gordy’s THE LAST DRAGON, 1985). Did you notice how I come up with cool names like that? Camp Loman? Camp as in juvenile humor and Loman as in Willy from DEATH OF A SALESMAN?
Peter: Yeah, that’s priceless. It’s equally amusing when the 18-wheeler runs him over, knocking him right out of his shoes, and then rolling over his suitcase full of bibles. By the by…RottenTomatoes.com gave THE LAST DRAGON (1985) an 83% approval rating. Can you believe that?
Lil’ Stevie: Sho’nuff!
Peter (chuckling): That’s very good…just like the Shogun of Harlem. I STILL love that movie.
We’re ALSO introduced to Curtis and Connie (John Short, APOLLO 13, 1995, and Yeardley Smith, voice of Lisa Simpson), cruising through town in a car decked with ribbons and soap writing indicating that they are JUST MARRIED. Connie is absolutely henpeck-ish and annoying throughout this movie. Curtis, on the other hand, is a decent guy…far more heroic than all the truckers and grease monkeys at the Dixie Boy. Curtis and Connie manage to dodge the convoy of driverless semis that have been parading around the truck stop. Likewise, Deke finally makes his way to the truck stop as well, only to discover that his dad is dead (run over by the Green Goblin truck).
Lil’ Stevie: Where this movie succeeds is how it pulls off a unique hostage situation, where humans are now captive to technology and machinery. There’s no reasoning with inanimate objects!
Peter: I’ll say. Sometimes you’re just freakin’ impossible!
Lil’ Stevie: Hey!
Peter: Ask me how I feel about being held captive to this festering turd of a movie. Yeah, the humans are held captive, but Billy and Brett somehow manage to figure out that all this nonsense is occurring because earth is in the tail of Rhea-M, the comet that is passing by in outer space. All they have to do is stay alive for eight days, and then earth will be out of the comet’s tail again, and everything should just go back to normal. This is kind of difficult, seeing that it’s an implied apocalypse where almost everybody else on earth is dead. All of this brings up the point that an 8-day span is waaayyy too long to make this story an efficient thriller. There’s a lot of waiting involved. Now King has to devise ways to keep us entertained. He kills off some of the characters, but they are none we have any sort of emotional attachment to. Hell, I was applauding when annoying Wanda June gets gunned down after her second, “We MADE you!” screechfest at the circling rigs. She’s so comically annoying that, had I been there, I’d have pushed her out the doors, myself. If you put this hostage situation side to side with THE MIST (2007), you can see the night and day difference between King as a storyteller and King as a guy trying to entertain you with blood and gore.
Lil’ Stevie: But I WANTED it to be comical. I wanted people laughing one moment and then throwing up the next. That’s the beauty of a good horror flick.
Peter: No, Lil’ Stevie…that’s the beauty of a bachelor party. King continues to kill time by having the vehicles communicate through Morse code that the humans are supposed to come outside and start filling their gas tanks. Billy and the gang do so, but as they do, they finally devise an escape plan. They tunnel through sewer lines to safety in the woods, then make their way to a marina to sail off to a car-free island for the rest of the week. And as they sail off into the sunsets and closing credits, we’re told that a U.F.O. was shot down in space by a Soviet “Weather Satellite” just as the comet finally passes, and that the Dixie Boy truck stop survivors are still survivors.
Lil’ Stevie: A masterpiece!
Peter: I don’t get it, Lil’ Stevie. You KNOW this is a terrible film. As a directorial debut, it has all the flaws of an amateur storyteller, and the REAL Stephen King is NOT an amateur. Maybe it showed some promise in terms of proving he could tell actors to look afraid or choreograph a major explosion sequence, but the story itself is a dud. The characters are silly, the premise is astoundingly lame, and aside from a few neat gore moments, this just wasn’t scary. So, WHY are you defending this movie?
Lil’ Stevie: Because Mr. King told me to, or he would kill Santa Claus in his next book.
(Lil’ Stevie’s nose begins to grow).
Lil’ Stevie: Because I’m secretly in love with Yeardley Smith.
(Lil’ Stevie’s nose grows longer).
Lil’ Stevie: (Weeping) Because I secretly snorted some coke before we started, and now I’m all silly!
Peter: Well, you should have just said NO! (Pulls out a shotgun with his free hand). It’s time. Here, turkey turkey turkey…Gobble gobble gobble!
(The MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE DVD suddenly pops up behind a clump of bushes. Peter draws a bead on it and pulls the trigger, and the disk explodes into a million tiny fragments).
Lil’ Stevie: God bless us everyone!
Peter: You’re overdue for an intervention.
Lil’ Stevie: I was only kidding about the drugs. I’ll give you a urine sample if you don’t believe me…
Peter: Save it for the Cinema Knife Fight Christmas party. Goodbye, folks. Happy Holidays, and thank you for joining us. We’ll see you in the New Year!
© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar