Maximum Overdrive Reviews
Plus AC/DC did the soundtrack so...BONUS
Based upon his short story entitled Trucks which was first published in 1973, Maximum Overdrive is a film with a rather ridiculous concept. But having read the short story, I'm capable of understanding how Stephen King was able to make the story work and just what themes he was able to fit into the short narrative. The film is clearly not one that would be able to capture the same insight due to the medium being visual rather than written, but given that the central antagonists of the stories are trucks it makes sense that a spectacle would do a lot to bolster the material.
Even though Maximum Overdrive is based on a simple short story, it still alters the premise of its source material in poor ways.
The intro text informs us that planet Earth has passed through the tail of a comet which is signified to be the source of the technology running independently haywire. We are also informed that Earth will only remain within the path of the comet for little more than eight days, suggesting that the timespan of the technological turmoil is ephemeral. This betrays the source material by removing the mystery of how the machinery has come to life, but worse it informs us that the characters only have to survive for little more than a week. In Trucks, there was no way of telling how long the titular Trucks would dominate society for and the narrator envisioned them taking over the world and even multiplying. This left the narrative to be very open-ended, suggesting apocalyptic possibilities. In the case of Maximum Overdrive, this feeling is rendered absent by our awareness of the situation. The ambiguity and nihilism of the original short story stood out as a source of its distinctive greatness, but this becomes forsaken for a more comedically oriented tone in the adaptation process.
Maximum Overdrive is not a typical Stephen King narrative. Rather than having the sombre and nihilistic tone of his more gothic works, Maximum Overdrive functions as a distinctively 80's guilty pleasure with a campy tone and a lot of black comedy. Rather than taking the time to develop an intense atmosphere, Stephen King simply begins killing off random people fast. It's clear that he has gleeful fun with this, and the result is actually rather entertaining. Through creative use of his concept, Stephen King finds a versatile series of ways to kill his characters in a variety of original and even funny ways. There is a fair share of blood and gore to support this all as well as plenty of explosions and gunfire, so the exhilaration is kept alive throughout Maximum Overdrive. The shortage of character development and simplistic dialogue means that many of the scenes in between the action and slashing comes up short, but Maximum Overdrive is a film proud of its ridiculous premise and bent on having as much fun as it can in the process. Even though this neglects the thought provoking elements of the source material, it still manages to stand on its own two feet as an entertaining action horror film. Maximum Overdrive carries the concept and some of the story elements from Stephen King's original short story but exists heavily more in the style of a music video than a legitimate horror narrative, and it manages to stand as a fun experience of its own right in the process.
Maximum Overdrive is a low budget film, but for a first timer it is clear that Stephen King is aware of proper funds management. Skating by with a story that happens essentially within a singular location, Maximum Overdrive diverts the majority of funds into hiring cool-looking trucks and blowing them up. The result leaves a lot of memorable imagery in the film and plenty of entertaining action, and it is captured with strong cinematography. And the fact that AC/DC was responsible for the soundtrack is just amazing since they perfectly capture the manic energy of the film and its hardcore 80's tone. They effectively keep the mood of the film set in that of a music video with intensity and glorious rock n' roll. Maximum Overdrive is a well-constructed mix of imagery and music, so for all its efforts to be a relentless guilty pleasure it definitely succeeds. It lacks the gothic nihilism distinctive in so many Stephen King films, but it's too damned fun to disregard.
Since the dialogue in Maximum Overdrive detracts from its roots, characterization is clearly not a strong point for the film. As a result, there is not a high demand for performances and so the cast leave no distinctive impression. Nevertheless, there is a certain nostalgic value that comes from the presence of Emilio Estevez in the lead role. Given that the man was big in the 1980's, it is great to see him leading such a ridiculously oddball film like Maximum Overdrive where he gets to use his handsome charm in an action hero role. He never stretches beyond believability in doing this as he maintains a gritty nature, giving him an effective bad boy charm in the process. Emilio Estevez makes a convincing hero for the story and helps to epitomize the 80's nature of the film.
Yeardley Smith is a frustrating presence though. Notorious for voicing Lisa Simpson on the longrunning animated sitcom The Simpsons (1989-present), Yeardley Smith's voice pushes the limits of toleration with Maximum Overdrive. As her character does little more than scream and complain the entire film, her high pitched voice gets really annoying in doing it and so viewers are left to just hope that one of the trucks kills her. When this prophecy goes unfulfilled, it's a true disappointment. Yeardley Smith doesn't moderate anything in Maximum Overdrive, and the result is a really dissenting performance.
Maximum Overdrive has a ridiculous premise and detracts from its source material's tone and themes, but fueled on a rush of violent 80's energy it delivers as a proud guilty pleasure of action horror.