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Movie Review: "Maximum Overdrive" (1986)
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers.
Movies involving possessed vehicles or machinery have always piqued one's interest at one time or another. In the '70s, there was Steven Spielberg's "Duel" and a made-for-television flick called "The Car". Then in the '80s, we had two Stephen King adaptations which were "Christine" and "Maximum Overdrive", the latter being the star of this review.
"Maximum Overdrive" is an adaptation of the Stephen King short story known as "Trucks" from his "Night Shift" collection. In "Maximum Overdrive", the Earth passes through the tail of a comet, Hadley's Hope, for which it will remain in for the next eight days (as we are told in the film's opening). As a result, every machine on the planet acts against its human owners and begins a takeover. These include automobiles, household appliances (i.e. hair dryers, electric knives), drive-thru speakers, lawnmowers, and even soda vending machines. You name it, they're all on a killing spree.
While this is a very interesting premise, the story's setting is limited to only Wilmington, North Carolina. To be more specific, a truck stop in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but trees and highway. The film shows the most potential in its opening sequence where a drawbridge in the city of Wilmington becomes possessed, so to speak, and separates as unsuspecting drivers continue across it. The horrific scenery here is jaw-dropping.
But as the film becomes more and more focused on the people stuck at the Dixie Boy truck stop, it tends to lose much of its appeal. There's scenes that take place outside of it, subplots that are sprinkled in here and there. For instance, there's a teenager who survives a massacre on a little league baseball field who decides to journey on his bicycle to the Dixie Boy to reunite with his father. Some of the best scenes of this film revolve around this boy's particular journey to the truck stop.
Then there's another subplot involving a couple of newly-weds, the wife is annoying as all hell while the husband is a macho-wannabe who just likes to make unwise decisions. There's a couple of eerie moments along their journey, however the boy's subplot is the best one. Long story short, all these survivors eventually meet up with the Dixie Boy people and they end up stuck there, surrounded by possessed trucks. It's not long before a little military box, I mean car, with a machine gun on top of it shows up and starts enslaving the survivors to feed them all fuel or else die.
So basically, this is like "Night of the Living Dead" but with trucks. It's a pretty cool concept when you think about it, but the way it was executed here is horrible. So horrible that it's good. At least the soundtrack wasn't bad, the AC/DC music was probably the best decision Stephen King made during the making of this movie. But let's take a look at some of the main issues that kept this from being what it deserved to be.
1. Just Leave It to the Trucks
One of the biggest flaws here is that not every machine on Earth is going into 'maximum overdrive'. We see mostly trucks, household electrical appliances, airplanes, lights, and so forth. But what about cars? There is one scene where the married couple drives past a group of old rusty cars just sitting off the road and they notice their headlights blinking on and off. That's it? What about the car they were driving in? Why didn't it just get a mind of its own and drive these two people into a ditch or something? Even in the sequence when every truck in the vicinity of Wilmington is waiting on the fuel lines at the Dixie Boy, there is not one car in sight.
In addition, there's a scene where the survivors are trying to escape the madness on a non-motorized boat at the docks. Well, did it ever cross their minds that they might get killed by motorized boats that have gone into maximum overdrive while they were out on the ocean? Or what if they just happen to cross paths with an unmanned submarine or a battleship? They wouldn't stand a chance.
2. Poor Characterizations
Worst of all, there are some very weak characters in "Maximum Overdrive", they mostly operate for the sake of plot convenience here and nothing more. In the next scene after the love interest meets Emilio Estevez's character, she's already hitting on him, not knowing the man from a hole in the wall. She's trying to get with him because the plot needs the hero to have a love interest. What the heck did this guy do to strike her fancy?
The boy is the probably the most interesting character of them all because his goal is something personal -- The world is ending around him and he wants to be with his father at the truck stop, and what stands in between him and his goal is a bunch of dangerous highways and deserted towns littered with dead people and crawling with possessed machines.
3. The Stupid Weather Satellite
So at the end of the film, more words appear on screen, detailing the conclusion of this worldwide catastrophe. In short, it turns out that aliens were using the comet's tail to control the machines in order to wipe us out, however, their plan worked against them when a weather satellite in space blew up their spaceship with some nuclear missiles.
Things brings many disturbing questions to mind like... Why would a weather satellite be armed with nuclear weapons? Were the aliens smart enough to build technology that would allow them to travel across many light years and control our machines but stupid enough not to think of loopholes like this in their grand plan? And most importantly, why are we being TOLD this instead of being SHOWN it? Could it be that Stephen King ran out of money to film the sequence?
4. Just Kill The Humans Already
I'm beginning to think that machines in general are actually smarter than aliens. What do I mean by that? Well, because in the "Terminator" movies, Skynet said 'Ah, what the heck, let's nuke everyone and everything, then we'll move in and kill off the stragglers'. But in "Maximum Overdrive", the so-called aliens decide to do things the hard way by taking possession of just about every machine on Earth except for our nuclear missile silos. Umm... okay.
Wouldn't it be an easier way to kill off mankind? Or maybe they decided not to because they want our natural resources? Well in that case, why not possess our heaters and make them blow up? How about blowing up all of the gas lines underground? I'm sure there's at least a few more routes the aliens could have gone when wiping us out with machines, so why go through all the trouble and only use hair dryers and trucks?
- Maximum Overdrive (1986) - IMDb
Directed by Stephen King. With Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Yeardley Smith.
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