Maximum Overdrive (Stephen King, 1986)
After watching overrated hucksters like Stanley Kubrick and Mark Lester (my god, man, who would hire him??) make a mockery of his great works, the at-the-time coked-out of his mind Stephen King (makes sense, as anyone who thinks what I just wrote is true had to have been totally fucked-up on drugs – though considering he still feels this way today, maybe it’s proof that he’s still tooting on the side when no one is looking…), massively selling his books on a level that would — with Warren Buffet-size quantities of cash suddenly flying around, mixing with an assuredly exploding ego — turn anyone into a coke fiend (I completely sympathize), decided to grab up the ol’ reigns and have a go at making his own cinematic masterwork… and, ooh boy.
Well, let that be a lesson to you, Steve-O. Just cause they like your books, a great cinematic mind it don’t make you (or even a functioning director, which is an actual profession, mind you, and one that only a select few — take Abel Ferrara, for instance — can get away with while simultaneously imbibing all sorts of fun intoxicants). I will hand it to King however. At least, in later interviews, he has admitted he created a ‘moron movie’, so at least he got one of his assessments of the 80’s adaptations of his works correct (because, let’s be clear, Kubrick’s transcendent The Shining is a masterpiece, and Lester’s tremendously fun Firestarter is nowhere near the ‘flavorless, cafeteria mashed potatoes’ he once dismissed it as).
Okay, now that I’ve properly chastised King (I’m quite sure he’s gonna feel humbled after reading this, as he most assuredly will… I mean, the ego on that guy!) for constantly spreading around his inferior cinematic perspective – I mean, all you have to do is read his Danse Macabre book where he refers to the startling George Miller debut Mad Max as a ‘turkey’, as well as look at any number of the directors he keeps continuously okaying on his television adaptations to get a fairly clear picture on that (I won’t name any of them as one of them happens to be kind of a friend, but let’s just say… no Stanley Kubrick’s amongst the bunch), I will say… with its rocking, guitar-thrashing 80’s AC/DC score, tons of twisted-metal car and truck explosions, car-screeching accidents, sandlot kids getting run over by bulldozers and silly one-level-above a Troma film performances, despite our best instincts (and even with my trying to set an example for her!), both my daughter and I came out of it thinking that while, yeah, it was assuredly dumb, it was also… well… kinda fun… something akin to Lloyd Kaufman with a big budget (and some legitimate talent around him doing their best to help the poor guy out).
It’s the kinda film where, when things aren’t blowing up or getting all cheesy gory, the (I can only imagine feverishly jonesing) director King has the actors pantomiming all way over the top (I mean the relatively unsightly newlywed couple — with the new wife modulating her performance between shrieking and hysteria — is the perfect example, though my daughter said she kinda liked them as they were the only people in the film with any personality… doesn’t say much for star Emilio Estevez, does it?), as if appealing to an audience of monkeys with zero attention span (amazingly, even with that, there were a few moments, around an hour in, where my attention started waning anyway). And speaking of pantomiming, you really have to wonder how Stephen King possibly takes any issue with the broad cartoonish way in which George Romero directed his performance in Creepshow (which, no surprise, King is entirely wrong about as he, and the episode titled “The Lonesome Death of Jody Verrill”, are a perfect flavor in that anthology film), when he plays his quick cameo herein as a doofus local before a strange-acting ATM machine in the most infantile manner possible (think the worst of Jerry Lewis and you still aren’t getting there, as a Lewis train wreck is still kinda interesting). On top of that, adding in poor Giancarlo Esposito (eventually celebrated as Gus in Breaking Bad, one of the great antagonists in modern television history), forced to play a bug-eyed minority stereotype of the kind who can’t help himself from robbing at any opportunity he gets, I’d say there’s a bit that wouldn’t quite pass muster in today’s environment, that’s for sure.
Other than a face like Pat Hingle (who is still asked to one-note his way through it), the actors are all pretty second-rate (and, yes, I include you, Estevez). Laura Harrington, playing the main hitchhiking love interest of the Estevez’s character is certainly cute but… she’s not much in the performance department (perhaps the reason for the entire stall of an already sputtering career at a certain point); the scene where she has to cry… yeesh. As with a lot of the film, it’s laughable. Though it’s hard to blame the actors when, like so many a quick yet enjoyable cash-grab of a 70’s indie exploitation movie that it feels reminiscent of, they’re asked to act in ways that don’t really match up with what’s going on around them.
Adapted from his own entirely pulpy, yet admirably grim-in-its-telling story “Trucks”, from his seminal Night Shift collection, a sparse little gruesome ditty centered entirely around a small group of helpless folks caught in a roadside diner surrounded by the marauding trucks (with a majority of the film’s narrative following suit), King expands his cinematic adaption into including more than just the titular trucks coming to life, buts lots of inanimate objects (though which come alive are always a function of script expediency… for instance, a sailboat does have a motor, no? So how come that ship at the end doesn’t rebel against them? Hmmmm…), as well as adds in an entirely lazy, perfunctory explanation (where the written tale, in the existential tradition of The Birds, offers none) regarding a comet trail covering the Earth for eight days creating all the supernatural events, a plot device that barely plays into the narrative other than just acting as the start and end points, with zero for our characters having to overcome other than just wait it out.
The Green Goblin face on the front of the main truck in the film (with King using the image long before it was made famous to the general public in the Spiderman films) used in a lot of the advertisements for the film is a nice representation for the entire experience… in your face, broad, not particularly ripe with profundity (ie, dumb)… but kinda fun in an unapologetically gaudy way. I don’t know how you managed it, Mr King (and I can only hope it humbled you!), but somehow you kept this chronological all-King adaptation retro my daughter and I are currently on engaging enough to keep us happily moving along.
Apparently producer Dino de Laurentiis wasn’t quite as pleased though, as, after being involved in five of these King adaptations, this was the one that broke the camel’s back. He was out after this one.
So far, Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Creepshow, Cujo, The Dead Zone, Christine, Children of the Corn, Firestarter, Cat’s Eye, Silver Bullet —and now… Maximum Overdrive. Lots of cinematic flavors, plenty of brilliance, a few questionable turns… and great fun so far. Azia’s cinematic education continues!