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A Review of "Maximum Overdrive"

I'd been meaning to watch Maximum Overdrive for years now.  It's a tried-and-true ironic classic that resurfaces in popular discussion of fun bad movies constantly, and somehow I kept putting it off.  So, after years of hype and missed opportunities, was it worth the wait?


Listen, I'm not going to just be a contrarian dick about this.  I can't deny that I had a good time with it.  Maximum Overdrive is definitely a great movie to watch with friends.  It easily falls in the category of Novice Bad Movie and has every right to its claim to cult status.

But I just have a bad taste in my mouth when all is said and done. I'm struggling to put my finger on the exact reason why.

In case you don't follow bad movies or have otherwise forgotten, this is the one where a bunch of trucks become sentient and trap a bunch of stereotypes in a diner, and Emilio Estevez tries to lead them to freedom.  It's a stupid premise to begin with, but what has made the movie exceptionally notorious is that it was the first and so far only time that Stephen King has directed an adaptation of one of his stories.

And I think that might be why I'm having a hard time laughing this one off.  Y'see, Maximum Overdrive has a lot of silly shit in it - the dialogue makes no sense, the rules of the trucks' personalities and abilities fluctuate at random depending on what the scene needs, the characters are all complete morons, and the effects are campy at best.  If there was anybody else in charge, you'd just laugh and say, "Well, guess you probably won't direct many more movies, huh?"

But since this is Stephen King directing Stephen King, it allows you to get away with saying, "Jeez, he can write a story, but he sure can't direct, huh?  Guess everybody has their strengths and their weaknesses."  It's a cop-out and it lets him off the hook too easily.

Let's be clear.  This isn't a story that would be good if it was directed by somebody else.  This is a thoroughly stupid movie.  It's the kind of story that would fall flat on its face even if you had Kubrick, Coppola, and Scorsese at the helm.  You'd have to scrap everything about it except the premise and start over.

It's pretty much everything I hate about Stephen King.  There's no rising action.  There's nothing to ground it in a recognizable reality.  The characters are a loose collection of needlessly cruel archetypes and/or stereotypes.  The few good ideas that come up are squandered or ignored.  But worst of all, it's pointless.  Nothing ever gels into a proper narrative - shit just kinda happens, and then it stops happening.

King's stories more often than not feel like you just pushed off a dock in a rowboat without any oars.  There's some good scenery and maybe a little bit of tension since you don't know where you're going, but after awhile you get bored and wonder when it's going to end.

And this is the greatest irony of all.  Maximum Overdrive makes a good case that King might be a more compelling director than he is a writer.