Director: Stephen King
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Christopher Murney
Screenplay: Stephen King
98 mins. Rated R.
The trailer for Maximum Overdrive, perhaps the single greatest trailer in cinema history, features Stephen King, the writer/director of the film and writer of the short story Trucks, which the film is based on, claims that if you want Stephen King done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself. He also claims that he’s going to Scare the Hell out of you! Neither of these claims ever comes true in Maximum Overdrive, but is the film without merit? I don’t think so. Let’s break down the horror novelist’s lone directing credit today, and we’ll find out just what the hell happened.
The date is June 19, 1987, and the Earth has passed in the tail of a comet that creates a supernatural force, bringing all machines on Earth to life. The machines begin a hostile and homicidal takeover, and a group of survivors hold up in the Dixie Boy truck stop gas station, hoping to fend off the mechanical menace.
Let’s start off with King’s second claim. There’s nothing in Maximum Overdrive even remotely terrifying outside of its central concept. It just doesn’t offer chills. Perhaps it’s because we don’t care about our core group of characters, perhaps it’s because we aren’t presented with enough tension once the initial plot comes into play and the survivors are trapped at the Dixie Boy. It isn’t exactly clear where the film falls apart because it is only tenuously held together to begin with. King’s a hell of a novelist, but directing just doesn’t seem his forte. He can direct on the page, but not all that well with a camera. That’s not entirely on him, as he was quoted as saying that he was “coked out of my mind” for the entirety of the filmmaking process, and it shows (perhaps nowhere more obviously than that trailer). If there’s ever been a solid case for quitting drugs, show someone the great modern horror writer and his film only directing film, Maximum Overdrive.
None of the performances are particularly dazzling. I like the Emilio Estevez (The Way, D3: The Mighty Ducks), specifically in Repo Man, but he capture the audience well. Pat Hingle (Batman, Hang ‘Em High) is flatly asshole-like in his work as Hendershot, a secondary antagonist to the survivor group, and everyone else in the film falls into the stock character work, with most of the secondary cast disappearing from memory with hours of seeing the film.
AC/DC provided the music for the film, and their song choices kind of worked with the high-octane motor vehicle villains that circulate around the Dixie Boy looking to pick off our blood-pumping heroes. I’m not big on their ratchety score outside of the song choices though. Again, AC/DC are not writers of musical scores, and while some musicians can do both, perhaps they were not ready at that time to move into the realm of films.
So the film is bad, there’s no denying that (King himself called it his worst adaptation back in 2013, and those 2 Golden Raspberry noms didn’t give it much credibility), but is it a so-bad-it’s-good kind of film? In some ways, it really is. It has such a simple plot that you don’t have to follow it with detailed notes, the inconsistencies (why do some of the working vehicles never come to life when others do?) are almost endearing, and the murder and mayhem are enjoyably silly and entertaining (King’s cameo as a man at an ATM is particularly dumb and fun). Sure, I showed it at a movie night a few years back, and it earned the enjoyment factor raised.
Maximum Overdrive is not a good movie, but like all auto wrecks, there’s some salvaging to do with this one. There are parts that work well enough to get it moving, and you can get some mileage out of it in the right circumstances, as long as you know what movie you are watching. The statements in the trailer may not be truthful, but it does sell exactly what this movie is, if you can handle it. It’s not good, and I won’t claim that it is, but you can still have a hoot with it.
-Kyle A. Goethe