[Screen It]


(2018) (Alex Neustaedter, Becky G) (PG)

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Sci-Fi: After befriending a robot dog that's part military weapon and part faithful canine companion, a teenager tries to keep him safe from others who want to do him harm.
Miles Hill (ALEX NEUSTAEDTER) is a teenager who lives with his widowed dad, Chuck (THOMAS JANE), and believes he's bad at everything except for Motocross. And that's without the trappings and apparent advantage of having a wealthy father like competitor Sam Fontaine (ALEX MacNICOLL) has.

One person who can empathize with Miles is Sara Reyes (BECKY G) whose single mother works for the Fontaine family, meaning the teen must hang around with Sam and his hangers-on. Miles meets her for the second time at a party Sam is throwing, and the next day the rich kid and his friends leave Miles out in the desert following an accident caused by their sabotage.

That's when Miles happens across a huge robotic dog named A.X.L. That's short for Attack, Exploration, Logistics as given to him by computer inventor and programmer Andric (DOMINIC RAINS) who'd developed the artificial canine as a weapon for the military.

After a brief violent encounter between the teen and robot dog, Miles ends up proving he's not the enemy by repairing the mechanical pooch and the two end up bonding, partly because that's part of A.X.L.'s programming.

Soon Sara ends up meeting the robot dog as well, and it's up to them to try to keep him safe not only from Sam and his friends, but also various military types who want their weapon back.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Our reviewing policy for films that aren't shown in advance to critics (or are done so late the night before they open) is that we'll only provide a paragraph or two about the film's artistic merits or, more accurately, lack thereof. After all, life is too short to spend any more effort than that on a movie that even the releasing studio knows isn't any good (which is why they hid it from reviewers before its release).

Who would have thought that in the span of two weeks, we'd have two films stemming from the old "boy and his dog" tale and ones on the extreme ends of the evolutionary scale of such human and canine bonds? Last week there was "Alpha" about the first domestication of a wild wolf into a faithful companion some 20,000 years ago and one that ultimately helps a teenager survive. This week, while not set that far into the future (in fact, it seemingly happens in the present day), we have "A.X.L." about a slightly similar domestication of a military-based, robotic dog by a teen.

Alas, while last week's entry was surprisingly good considering the bare bones story, this week's doesn't fare as well despite a premise that offers a great deal more potential and options about how things could play out. In short, a young man, Miles (Alex Neustaedter), comes across our titular pooch that's escaped from the military contractor research lab run by Andric (Dominic Rains). He's apparently done so due to being used for target practice to test his durability, while the teen has been abused by a rich punk, Sam (Alex MacNicoll), who's caused him to suffer a motorbike accident out in the desert and then uploaded a stylized video of that to the web to make fun of him.

So, the boy and his dog bond, a young woman enters the picture (Becky G, seemingly doing the Megan Fox character thing from "Transformers" based on her looks and choice of attire), and they must protect the pooch from the rich kid (weird, but he does have a flamethrower to go along with his silver spoon) and various military types.

Despite (or perhaps because of) adapting and elongating this from his 2015 short film "Miles," writer/director Oliver Daly simply can't make it work. The story's all over the place, the villains are underdeveloped, and the abilities of the dog seemingly change from an indestructible weapon to a poorly constructed robot depending on the needs of the scene. And by the time he develops rabies and has to be put down out back behind the shed (sorry, wrong boy and his dog story, but you get the point), we simply don't care.

My advice, if you have a hankering for seeing a young man tame a wild beast of the canine persuasion, stick with "Alpha." Otherwise, you're going to be stuck with an "A.X.L." where the sound and vibrations of the bad bearings inside end up making this a decidedly less than enjoyable cinematic ride. The film rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed August 23, 2018 / Posted August 24, 2018

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