Disaster Du Jour: Maximum Overdrive
I can declare that Maximum Overdrive is almost, very nearly, but not quite, a great movie. It’s close to being in the same league as the original Night of the Living Dead and Halloween films but comes up just a bit short. Writer/director Stephen King is nearly able to give Maximum Overdrive an underlying message to make the movie more than just the sum of its parts while at the same time delivering the gore and scares but in the end falls short.
In Maximum Overdrive, when the Earth passes through the tail of a comet all the machines on the planet spring to life, go crazy and seemingly have the singular goal of murdering everyone in sight. If it’s not the mower cutting the dad instead of the lawn then it’s the pop machine shooting out sodas at unsuspecting little leaguers or the semis prowling the interstates looking for their next unsuspecting car to squish.
The movie follows a group of random survivors who find themselves at a truck stop just off the interstate and learn that if they want to survive they must feed a never ending fleet of big rigs lined up on the road needing gasoline to fuel their destruction of the human race.
Maximum Overdrive is the kind of movie where if you can accept that one of these semis can silently creep up on a man, then have the magical power to accelerate to a speed fast enough to catch said person off guard and run them down then you’ll probably enjoy the movie. If you are not down with that logic, it’s probably best that you find your entertainment elsewhere.
I was most certainly down with the logic of Maximum Overdrive.
Essentially, Maximum Overdrive is a re-imagining of Night of the Living Dead but with trucks in the place of the zombie ghouls. Seriously, no joke. Here, instead of the survivors holing up in an abandoned farmhouse, they hole up in the Dixie Boy truck stop. And instead of the group coming to rely on African American Ben (Duane Jones) for survival, they rely on ex-con turned short order cook Bill (Emilio Estevez).
Where King is nearly able to transcend the genera is that he’s almost able to tie in the idea that our dependence on machines and oil makes us slaves of the machines and not, as we like to think, the other way around. There’s an interesting little speech Bill gives at one point about the gas at the truck stop that’s “practically uncut” like drugs, but it comes off so ham handed and over the top it’s more of a comedic than a dramatic one and it fails to give the movie any deeper meaning.
It’s almost like King was on the verge of saying something interested but pulled back at the last moment hence the comedy rather than drama.
That being said, I did think Maximum Overdrive was a fun movie, if plagued with logic problems. Like, how exactly does one of these semis that’s sprung to life drive itself? Is there some weird ghost driver or is it something in the mechanics? And why do some machines spring to life and not others? If (spoiler alert) all the machines are under the control of this force, how do the Russians use one of their satellites (aka a machine) to stop a coming alien invasion and deactivate the murderous machines?
It would help the movie too if the characters weren’t so broad and ill-defined. There are several characters here who have the annoying habit of shouting most of their lines — “WE MADE YOUUUU!!!” springs to mind. The most well drawn character of the bunch is “Bubba” (Pat Hingle) who seems to be having a ball with his character of an unapologetic slimy southern gun-loving cigar-chomping owner of the Dixie Boy. If only everyone else were having as much fun here as Hingle.
Still, Maximum Overdrive is a decent enough movie that’s probably best enjoyed watched in the dark, late at night preferably with a group. Maximum Overdrive is available on DVD. Grade: C.