Movie Review: Maximum Overdrive

Stephen King stands as one of the most acclaimed authors of all time.  As an American literary icon, many of his books have been adapted for both the big and small screens over the last thirty years, several of which quickly established themselves as instant classics (Misery, The Shining, Stand By Me) and some that missed the mark entirely (Dreamcatcher, The Mist, Secret Window).  Mr. King has never experienced much difficulty scoring sought-after directors to helm the film versions of his novels, but after spending over a decade witnessing some of his greatest stories being brought to life by such artistic minds as Brian De Palma, John Carpenter and Stanley Kubrick, the anxious writer eagerly embraced the director's chair for the first (and subsequently last) time ever in his career to bring us the infamous 1986 action-horror debacle Maximum Overdrive, a clumsily-made mess that accomplished little other than revitalizing the career of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers AC/DC.

Loosely based on King's short story "Trucks," Maximum Overdrive's hare-brained plot involves an assorted band of townspeople holed up in Wilmington, North Carolina's Dixie Boy truck stop after their vehicles outside mysteriously come to life and proceed to mow them down one by one.  An introduction at the beginning of the movie suggests that an enigmatic comet passing near Earth has left a trail of cosmic space dust in its wake which causes the planet's machines to go haywire.  The celestial takeover doesn't limit itself to simply possessing the big rigs patrolling the fueling station's parameter -- a malfunctioning pinball game, a psychotic electric carving knife and a rampaging soda machine also join in on terrorizing the citizens as they attempt to survive the automated invasion.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, and when technology goes ballistic and rises up against its human creators, there's only one man who can save us all...

Emilio Estevez.  Fresh off his star-making appearance in the John Hughes high school drama The Breakfast Club, Estevez ditches his former "jock with a heart of gold" persona in favor of the "badass turned unlikely hero" role for Maximum Overdrive as Bill Robinson, a criminal whose latest run-in with the law lands him a job as the Dixie Boy's head cook by orders of his work release program.  When shit jumps off, Bill takes command as the leader of the gang consisting of the slutty hitchhiker Brett (Laura Herrington), obnoxious newlyweds Curtis and Connie (John Short and Yeardley Smith), douchebag shop owner Mr. Hendershot (Pat Hingle), and a slew of secondary no-names existing solely to serve as fodder for the mechanical uprising's bloodthirsty onslaught.  Estevez coasts through his performance and surrenders any attempt at making Bill a memorable protagonist, but who cares about that rubbish when we've got killer trucks on the loose?

Besides the implausible circumstances that set the film's events into motion, a number of lingering discrepancies clutter Maximum Overdrive's 97-minute runtime, but to nitpick these obvious gaps in logic would be a waste of time.  Despite all of the movie's shortcomings, there is some fun to be had.  Watching people getting annihilated by semis can be morbidly amusing, and what King neglects to contribute to character development he makes up for in the special effects department, packing in enough blood and explosions to keep the casual moviegoer stimulated throughout.

The Verdict: In the end, Maximum Overdrive wholly deserves the cult following it has accumulated over the last few decades.  When the film was brought up in a 2002 interview, Stephen King admitted to being "coked out of my mind all through its production, and I really didn't know what I was doing."  For a movie directed by a guy all geeked up on hard drugs, the pacing is sometimes painfully lethargic, but if you're a fan of trash cinema, you'll discover that there's enough happening to keep you somewhat entertained.  I'll give Maximum Overdrive a 4 out of 10.  Here's hoping for a 25th anniversary edition next year that restores all of the deleted scenes from the original uncut version.

AC/DC "Who Made Who" Music Video (With Footage From Maximum Overdrive):

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