2018-08-23 18:18


Miles is a young, working-class motorbike racer struggling to make his way in a field dominated by those who can afford the most state of the art racing equipment and don’t have to rely, as he does, on shoestring repairs and salvaged second-hand parts. His fortunes take a sudden change when he comes across A.X.L. a robot-dog that was created by the military as a lethal weapon but with which he soon forms a bond.  


Based on his own 2015 short, Miles, Oliver Daly’s feature film début as both writer and director feels like a first film and, unfortunately, in all the wrong ways. What we have here is a fairly basic, borderline banal, take on a “boy and his dog” story (yup, the second in two weeks) but with some Short Circuit and Robocop thrown in for, frankly, no good measure. It’s about as straightforward and uninspired as you may expect with some wooden performances, clunky writing and direction that hasn’t quite managed to escape film-school amateurism. 

Alex Neustaedter takes on the lead role of Miles, whose bland, pretty-boy good looks are nowhere near enough to cover up how un-engaging he is as a lead and singer-turned-actor Becky G is sadly never more than just another hot girl with a heart of gold as Miles’ wannabe-squeeze. Their good looks don’t exactly translate into good acting but the cliché, roughly-sketched characterisation of their roles would fell even the best actors.

Thomas Jane as Alex’s super-cool dad is easily the biggest name here and he’s as likeable as ever but he made far more impact in his thirty-second cameo as a member of the “vegan police” in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World than he does in the entirety of this film. Oh, there’s also Alex McNicoll as King Douche of the other dude-bro racers and the film’s chief antagonist (there’s also a couple of rogue government operatives but... meh) and he’s actually pretty well cast in that he is indeed pretty damn slappable from his very first appearance.   

If talking about the cast and characters wasn’t uninteresting enough, the boring, cliché-ridden plot is even worse. There’s nary a surprise here as the film goes exactly as you expect it to right from the very first shot. I won’t spoil any details but no doubt you have a very clear picture of how the film goes just from my brief plot synopsis above and all I can say is that it is exactly the film you have in your head – but probably a whole lot more boring. Well, everything except the whole working class biker thing: that really has little relevance to the rest of the film and is only really there to set up the various characters and their relationships. 

Even the robotic dog itself does nothing to really save things. It (sorry, sorry: “he”) may have all sorts of military-planted tricks under its metal-plated hide but A.X.L. has almost no personality of its own whatsoever. It’s a machine that acts a bit like a dog and... that’s really kind of it. It’s both a singularly uninteresting robot and a singularly uninteresting dog. In a year when we have Wes Anderson’s wonderfully weird Isle of Dogs and the memorable wolf-dog in Alpha (iffy movie, cool dog), this is particularly noticeable. As for its robotic aspect, really, pick any artificial life-form from the history of science fiction TV and film and you’re pretty much guaranteed a better robot than A.X.L. That it’s not R2D2 is one thing but it’s not even as interesting as a stray Dalek.    

For all of that, though, A.X.L. is a fairly innocuous little movie that may still work reasonably enough for ten-year-old boys who love dogs and robots and haven’t seen enough movies to know any better. And, honestly, the whole thing is closer to being lame than truly objectionable. Daly doesn’t exactly wow with this, his first feature, but it’s heartfelt enough that there is at least a hint of promise that even if he’s not destined to be the next Spielberg, he probably won’t be the next Michael Bay either. And for that, at the very least, we can be thankful.

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