In June 1987, the planet Earth passed through the tail of a comet for a few days, but this event had unforeseen consequences across the world. For example, at a bridge across a river the two halves of the structure began to raise themselves while there were vehicles still traversing it, causing chaos that nobody knew how to stop. Gradually across the day increasing numbers of machines developed a new and malevolent mind of their own, until people realised that they were in danger from the very vehicles and electrical goods they were supposed to be in control of...
Stephen King was the number one horror writer of his era, with an impressive amount of bestselling books under his belt even by the time he decided to make a film of one of his own works, the view being that if anybody was going to get the deceptively tricky adaptations right, it would be the author. Alas, where others have fallen before and since so did King, with a lumbering and lamebrained version of one of his short stories, Trucks. It may have underperformed at the box office, and did nothing to bolster its creator as a valid filmmaker, but there were those who didn't expect much and came away without a feeling of being hugely let down.
As post-apocalypse movies go, at least Maximum Overdrive delivers on its premise in that you do indeed see plenty of stunts with big motor vehicles running people over, getting into chases and exhibiting a thirst for destruction. Yet elsewhere, you have to put up with characters who don't have rounded personalities and lapse eagerly into caricature, ideal for the supporting roles but not much fun to spend a whole ninety minutes with. King keeps it broad throughout, with big setpieces, big reactions and big would-be laughs, but when those jokes are mainly of the "isn't it funny when people yell?" variety you feel more could have been made of the material.
The bulk of the story revolves around a truck stop diner where a cook on parole, Bill (Emilio Estevez), is being forced to work longer hours for less pay by his unscrupulous boss Hendershot (Pat Hingle). Approaching is resourceful hitchhiker Brett (Laura Harrington) who has been picked up by a sleazy Bible salesman. All this buildup is pretty much thrown out of the window after about twenty minutes where swearing begins to take over as the communication of choice and the collection of humanity stranded in the diner try to work out their next move, something which takes the whole film for them to do.
What happens is that the big trucks, led by a toy company one which has the face of Spider-Man's old enemy The Green Goblin on the front, bump off a few victims then leave the rest to stew inside as they circle, not letting them out. Luckily, there is an arsenal of weapons in the basement which they make sparing use of, despite having a rocket launcher at their disposal, so that those trucks can continue going round and around. Eventually when it looks as if they will run out of fuel, a machine gun toting vehicle turns up to demand via morse code that the people fill 'em up, and you consider that when the fuel runs out then the danger will be over in a matter of days, yet nothing is made of this inevitability and the tale progresses as if there is a New World Order in effect. On the other hand, amid this unpretentious idiocy you do get to see a man killed by a drinks machine, hear a lot of AC/DC on the soundtrack, and witness a cash dispenser call King an asshole. It is easy to watch, for all its faults.