I’ll start this review by telling why I decided to watch and review this. I wrote a short story recently to entertain my friends. It’s based on a comic book advertisement for a show none of us remembered, Marvel Action Hour. Sure, we all know Spider-Man and have much love for RoboCop, but not a single person remembered the Dino-Riders, or their goofy leader featured in the ad. Given that he had a rearview mirror on his dinosaur there was much derision passed to him in subsequent conversation. Rather than look any of it up, though, I gave him a new name and personality and wrote what I feel is a pretty funny send up of the concept. I’ll repost this soon. The nature of the show, being an anthology program, brought up another more fondly recalled show, Super Sunday. This featured the still absurdly popular Jem and the Holograms, my personal favorite from the batch, The Inhumanoids, as well as Robotix and Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines.
I know from revisiting that The Inhumanoids doesn’t hold up to what ten-year-old-me thought of it. I remembered it being about monsters kicking the holy shit out of the whole world. Turns out it’s about a group of utterly meh-able G.I. Joe knockoffs that try to prevent that shitkicking. What a letdown that turned out to be. But until the discussion of the previously mention story I had totally, justifiably, forgotten about Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines.
What I think that a great number of my generation can’t or choose not to recall, or simply romanticize, is that a childhood in the 1980s was essentially growing up in a strip mall. You lived in a KB Toys dreamland while hoping one day to be adult enough to get the dirty jokes at Spencer’s Gifts. The important thing, though, is that every bit of it was for sale and being sold to you. The zeitgeist of the era dropped a ton of cartoonish, macho fads in our laps and monster truck pulls came along with them. Bigfoot revving up, Hulk Hogan flexing and Snake Eyes ninja-punching Destro in the face without even a comical metallic “bong” sound, that was the 1980s for me as a wee lad. Now, Snake Eyes got his due well enough, and Hulk Hogan owned Saturdays with WWF programming and his own baffling cartoon series, Hulk Hogan’s Rock and Wrestling, but some group of sad fuckers got stuck with the task of selling the newly fashionable love of monster trucks to a Saturday morning demographic to move toys, sheet sets and footie pajamas. Like the writers if Viva Knievel! before them, these stalwart scribes gave it their all and died their predisposed death. Because how could you possibly create an exciting, kid-friendly adventure around a group of faceless machines and expect anyone to take it seriously or connect with it on some meaningful level? You can’t really, but you can do some weird things while you try.
And that is where I begin this review. The cluster of episodes of the series was grouped on YouTube, where I watched it. The “movie” is barely 50 minutes long. That’s more than enough, though. So, you have to sell the monster trucks that you’ve licensed to kids. You’ll need characters! Let’s run these down- Yank Justice drives Bigfoot and is every bit as cliché as that name makes him sound. His name sounds like one of those you used to hear in bad translations of Japanese video games. “Yank Justice want to fight for belt. Will you accept challenges?” Don’t want to be bothered thinking up a new character? Just make John Wayne blond and call it a day. That’s Yank. His team includes twin sister drivers of Black Gold, Red and Redder. Yeah, that’s all they were ever called. Their defining characteristic was “sass.” Guess what color their hair was. Rounding out the group, driving the Orange Blossom Special, was my personal favorite, Professor Dee. You see, Prof. Dee is a scholarly, sophisticated, dapper African-American gentleman who dropped out of the world of academia to pursue a career driving a monster truck. For some reason. Actually, name any single life choice made by Prof. Dee and you’ll pretty much have to end that sentence with “for some reason.” But that’s what made him the best part of the show. Not one single thing about him makes any sense whatsoever. He wears a tweed suit, sports a fantastic gray mustache and keeps a pet armadillo with him at all times. He speaks with what an eight year old would call “big words.” How could you not love that guy? Along the way they pick up a lady with a map and the fantastically named Close McCall, driving a funny car he calls War Lord.
The map draws them into the movie’s adventure as the erstwhile archeologist has uncovered a map of Ponce de Leon’s own Fountain of Youth. She tags along with the Muscle Machines crew because she’s being pursued by agents of reclusive, elderly kazillionaire Adrian Ravenscroft. In case his evil name wasn’t enough proof of evil for you Ravenscroft also has a personal crest that looks like a bird version of the Thundercats symbol. He employs a mountainous, murderous chauffeur, who continuously asks if Ravenscroft wants him to “dust” or “waste” lousy spy Ernie Slye. Slye attacks Yank at one point by shaking up a soda and pointing it at his face. That’s how effective he is. Hence he’s constantly under threat of “dusting” for various failures.
Most of the film is a cross-country pursuit to showcase the trucks as much as possible. Everyone gets a chance to show off their truck’s toughness and ability to drive over big obstacles. They got that part in there in spades. The Fountain of Youth turns out to be real, of course, and Ravenscroft uses it to restore himself, then immediately goes even more power mad than he already had been, rushing the movie to its gruesome conclusion. Have to give it some props for that.
Between the absurdity of shoehorning a plot about finding to Fountain of Youth into a vehicle designed to showcase monster trucks and the fact that Ernie Slye sounds suspiciously like Cobra Commander, I suspect Ravenscroft of being the shadowy financier of Cobra. Someone had to provide the cash to back Cold Slither and MASS Device research. I’m pretty sure that if Hasbro owned the trademarks they would probably retcon the whole series to make that happen, and include a Monster Truck Division of G.I. Joe led by Yank. It happened to M.A.S.K. But they don’t so it won’t. OK, I’m done namedropping toys now. But that’s what watching and Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines will do to you. It’s a 50 minute toy commercial and nothing more, outside of the ludicrousness that it had to go to in order to have any plot at all. 2 stars, mostly for having Professor Dee on the team