Maximum Overdrive is one of the most gloriously dumb movies I’ve ever seen. In the beginning an ATM tells Stephen King, playing a touristy bystander, to go fuck himself. Minutes later a drawbridge opens prematurely, tossing cars and trucks into one another like toys. The filmmaking here is so incompetent through its overuse of slow motion and slapstick, it’s like something out of a bad screwball comedy. Thankfully, the bar is set so low at the get-go the movie really can’t go anywhere but up.
And man, does it ever go up… up and up and right through the stratosphere of good taste and logic. Children and dogs are killed with reckless abandon. Stunt dummies, when struck by vehicles, explode as if rigged with Tannerite. It’s great to see such a tasteless movie made by a guy who’s been overwhelmingly accepted by the mainstream.
The year is 1986 and Earth has drifted into the tail of a comet. That’s about the closest we get to an explanation for machinery turning psycho on humankind. Soda machines spit out cans at the speed of bullets while steam rollers lie in ambush behind little league scoreboards. For a handful of days, big rigs will rule the planet. This is apparently a global phenomenon, but King focuses on a small band of survivors holed up in a truck stop.
I believe King has been critical of his own movie in the years since its release. It seems obvious cocaine played a big part in many of the directorial decisions here, which is a shame, but I can’t help but love this movie. It’s one of the most entertaining movies I’ve ever seen and, at times, it can be oddly brilliant. There’s a scene in which the machines need something and concoct a way to force the humans into giving it to ’em… I don’t want to spoil it, but I genuinely love that the movie went there. Even better, it spends an appropriate amount of time with the development before speeding back into the inexplicable madness.
Perhaps the most unusual thing about the movie is the child actor is better than his adult counterparts, which include Emilio Estevez, Laura Harrington, Pat Hingle, and Lisa Simpson’s voice actress, Yeardley Smith. At one point the kid is casually strolling through his neighborhood on a bicycle, surveying the victims of the unexplained phenomenon. Some of the murder weapons include: remote control cars, Walkmans, and lawnmowers. It was during this scene when I got hit with the hardest case of the giggles I’ve had all month.
Here’s a movie in which automobiles and guns have become sentient, yet characters still insist on driving cars and carrying guns. Look, you can’t poke holes in the logic of a movie which has none. That’s probably one of the greatest defenses for brain candy like this—the kind of movie in which a truck stop is packed to the brim with machine guns and explosive weaponry.
This is the stuff drive-ins were made for. I’d kill to see it with a midnight audience. What a fun, unadulterated piece of madness.