HomeMoviesA-X-L Review: It's Been Done Before, and Better

A-X-L Review: It’s Been Done Before, and Better

Photo Credit: Tony Rivetti (Global Road Entertainment)

Sometimes I go into movies with such low expectations that I come away surprised at how much I really enjoyed a film, Solo: A Star Wars Story for example. While I can’t say that is how I felt leaving A-X-L, it wasn’t as painful to get through as I thought it might be.

Part of me wants to just respect the fact that writer-director Oliver Daly made this passion project happen from a short film to a feature, but another part of me realizes that it doesn’t provide anything that Short Circuit, Iron Giant and Chappie haven’t already done better. It was tough to determine if large portions of A-X-L were a homage to these films or just a blatant copy.

The plot of the film is fairly easy to decipher from the trailer. A teenage motocross rider named Miles (Alex Neustadter) doing his best Emile Hirsch impression, discovers a military-developed robotic dog designed to be a loyal and effective weapon. This weapon, called A.X.L (Attack, Exploration, Logistics), is the very latest in cutting-edge artificial intelligence, and he has escaped from the lab where he is being developed, seemingly due to poor treatment.

The pair form a bond through the first of two “repair the broken robodog montages” and from there, Miles, his love interest, Sara (Becky G), and father, Chuck (Thomas Jane), defy all common sense to attempt to protect A.X.L from the Company that created him, the military that was paying for him, and a local rich jerk Sam (Alex MacNicoll), who gets progressively more vindictive as the story goes along.

If you find yourself confused or rolling your eyes when you hear the words “turnt” and “send it,” you probably were not the target audience for this movie. Although, based on the less than $3M that the movie took in on its opening weekend, I’m sure they will take what they can get. It’s probably not fair to hold this movie accountable for the financial distress that Global Entertainment is currently going through, but it certainly hasn’t helped that this is their latest film to fail to meet box office expectations. To my surprise, my showing on a Tuesday night was full of families, so maybe it will rebound.

There were parts mixed in that were enjoyable: mostly the motocross visuals, a few clever bits of dialogue, and the father-son relationship. Unfortunately, there were longer periods of the movie that felt like your average teenage sitcom drama, which I felt uncomfortable witnessing. There is something about young love stories and teenage angst that feels awkward to view once you reach a certain age, and this was more ABC Family than Romeo and Juliet. That’s not a knock on the acting, which was fairly realistic, but the dialogue was painful at times between Miles and Sara, and Sam was over the top.

It seemed that the movie did not really know how far to take any of its themes. There were teenage parties, but they featured visuals of excessive eating, which was just an odd attempt to avoid showing underage drinking. The film seemed to want the audience to fall in love with A.X.L, but as often as it was made to behave like a cute, energetic dog, it was also terrifying and vicious (complete with jump-scares). This great military weapon was supposed to be lethal, but it had a hard time taking out any of its targets or even staying upright. Maybe they programmed too many pointless things into him, like an ability to perform light shows and set the mood for horny teenagers.

Honestly, you just never feel a connection or much empathy for A.X.L or any of the other characters, which makes it impossible to rationalize any of their behaviors or decision making. It’s hard to determine what their end game could have possibly been for trying to hide or run away with their four-legged military weapon, especially when its first impulse seems to attack everyone it meets until being told not to. The endearing part of similar military robots, like Chappie and Johnny 5, was their ability to vocalize their naivety. You just can’t get that payoff with A.X.L, or anything original enough to deem the movie above mildly entertaining.
Overall Rating: 5/10

Ben Murchison

A-X-L is currently playing in theaters nationwide.

Ben Murchison
Ben Murchison
Ben Murchison is a regular contributor for TV and Movies. He’s that guy that spends an hour in an IMDb black hole of research about every film and show he watches. Strongly believes Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be the best show to ever exist, and that Peaky Blinders needs more than 6 episodes per series. East Carolina grad, follow on Twitter and IG @bdmurchison.

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