“A.X.L.” stars Alex Neustaedter, Becky G, Alex MacNicoll, Lou Taylor Pucci, Patricia de Leon, and Thomas Jane. Released on August 24, 2018, the film is about a motocrosser who comes across a robotic dog in a junkyard.
The film is written and directed by Oliver Daly. So far this month, we’ve seen a couple of films that deal with the relationships between a person and their canine companion: one that takes place during the present (Dog Days), and one that takes place 20,000 years ago (Alpha). This time, Hollywood is going to take the term “man’s best friend” to the next level…by turning a canine into a super-intelligent robot dog. This latest family adventure started off as a proof-of-concept short film entitled “Miles” that was funded by Kickstarter in 2014. It was later reworked as a feature film a year later. It is also the latest film to be distributed by Global Road Entertainment, the same company that gave us another family film, “Show Dogs”, back in May and the action thriller, “Hotel Artemis”. I was very skeptical at how this will turn out when I first saw the film’s trailer. Yes, it has a teenager befriending a robot dog, but the trailer didn’t do that much to get me all that excited for the film, in my opinion. Who knows? Maybe this might be one of those films where the final cut is a bit better than the marketing. It’s highly doubtful, but let’s check to make sure.
Like most of the family-friendly films that involve human and dog relationships, the story is a simplistic tale about a young man named Miles Hill (Neustaedter) and his encounter with a high-tech canine with artificial intelligence, who is known as A-X-L. When the scientists that created A-X-L plot to retrieve it, Miles must protect his only friend with the help of his ally, Sara (Becky G). Films that have a term, “man’s best friend”, are always easy to come by because people love watching dogs bond with their human companions, and “A.X.L.” is undoubtedly no different. To its credit, it did its job in entertaining several dog lovers and those who are into robotics. I even took my mother to see it with me, and she enjoyed it. However, as an attempt to provide some late summer fun for the little ones, it’s a glitchy mess. The first few minutes were pretty solid, but then it started going downhill from there and never recovered. As I mentioned before, the story is very simplistic and offers plenty of elements that we’ve seen before in any other human/dog relationship films, although the way they handled it ranged from generic to underwhelming, both screenplay-wise and emotion-wise. Neustaedter wasn’t able to put a lot of effort into his performance as Miles. I wouldn’t say that his acting was terrible, but I would say that he’s got a lot of work to do if he’s going to appear in more movies. Becky G was the only actor who managed to deliver a passable performance out of all of the cast members in the film. Why can’t the film focus on her character instead? Speaking of which, the characters made themselves a bit too provocative or uninteresting for me to connect with them mostly because of how they’re written, ranging from the bully, Sam Fontaine (MacNicoll), to the scientists who aren’t as smart as they think they are. In other words, I was pretty annoyed by some of the characters’ actions. The film felt more like something that older kids could handle because there were a couple of scenes that I believe may not suit well for younger kids, including the ones where A-X-L is being attacked. This isn’t a flaw or anything. This is just something that I should share with you before you plan on seeing it with your kids. The only good thing about it was its use of visual effects. Oliver Daly made a swell choice in using both animatronics and CGI to create the title character in order to add a bit of realism into the film.
Overall, “A.X.L.” suffers from too many errors to deliver another suitable “man’s best friend” film for kids and their parents. I can understand that both dog lovers and people who are into robotics can relate to this film, which is what they’re going for, but it didn’t offer anything else that’ll warm the hearts of anyone outside of its target audience. With its underwhelming plot, forgettable characters, and a weak cast, the film is basically a large piece of rusty metal with a side of nuts and bolts. A disappointing end to a kid-friendly summer.