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Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Director: Stephen King

review by Tony Lee

This is the very essence of cult filmmaking. Big time genre writer let loose behind the camera, nonsensical black comedy sci-fi disaster genre plotting (big machines attack various café patrons), straight-to-video actors - led by embarrassed-to-be-here Emilio Estevez, an eclectic range of subculture samples (the 'Green Goblin', truck-stop trash folk, technofear clichés, pounding score by AC/DC), stereotyped characters (irritating newlyweds, doomed Bible salesman, appallingly bigoted survivalist, cute waitress, gallant young drifter) that may deserve to die anyway, offbeat jumble of distressing siege anxieties and escapist chase thrills with sleazy comic relief.
   With these ingredients thrown together by circumstances, bad timing, script voodoo, and cheesy authorial wilfulness, there's plenty of lowbrow humour to be found in the rushed dialogue of pressure sweat isolation, and some entertaining road movie spectacle with improvised heroism as convoys of 18-wheel monsters demolish all shelter against heavy metal attack. Is this how the world ends - not with an anguished cry but with a wicked grin?
   Yes, admittedly, Maximum Overdrive is risibly bad - if compared to other man versus machine action cinema like The Terminator. But there is evidence that Stephen King never intended anyone to take his directorial début seriously, so it's no use even trying to criticise him for having some deliriously gory fun in this unassuming rehash of formulaic SF adventures. Maximum Overdrive is a showcase for absurd measures of human misery and graphic violence, senseless destruction of property by explosions and runaway machines - in which hapless bystanders are crushed and mangled beyond recognition, and acts of daring and bravery that are not always successful. There's also a copout happy ending. What more could you ask for from a tasteless midnight movie?

previously published in VideoVista #29
Related pages:
tZ - Creepshows: The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Guide by Stephen Jones
      [review includes Stephen Jones' top 10 lists of favourite & worst Stephen King movies]
Maximum Overdrive - poster
Maximum Overdrive - on DVD
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