A.X.L.


A dog and his boy.

(2018) Young Adult Sci-Fi (Global RoadAlex Neustaedter, Becky G, Alex MacNicoll, Dominic Rains, Thomas Jane, Lou Taylor Pucci, Patricia De Leon, Niko Guardado, Marie-Francoise Theodore, Ted McGinley, Madeline Bertani, Andrew Ortenberg, Hassie Harrison, Magdalene Vick, Sam Upton, Eric Etebari, Jonathan Camp, Donnie Smith, Dan Callahan, Ashley Gibson. Directed by Oliver Daly

I have a gripe about teen-oriented movies/TV shows in which teens do unbelievably dumb things against the advice of any reasonable adult and end up saving the day because “they’re true to themselves.” Sometimes the trope works but more often than not it gives young people the attitude that anything they do is okay because they’re being “true to themselves.”

Miles (Neustaedter) is an up-and-coming motocross rider with tons of natural talent. He lives in a small central California town with his widowed dad (Jane) who wants his kid to go to college, but Miles ain’t buying it. He doesn’t think he’s smart enough for college and later events prove him right. But I’m being mean, gentle reader so disregard the snark. Even if it is true.

He has a rivalry with Sam (MacNicoll) whose dad (McGinley) is wealthy and bankrolling his son’s attempt at motocross fame. Sam is jealous of Miles’ talent and sets out to humiliate him at every turn. He ends up stranding Miles in the middle of nowhere, where Miles stumbles on a robotic dog the size of a small pony. The robot is actually a weapon developed by an unscrupulous researcher (Rains) meant to be used in war. The dog, known as A.X.L. (Attack, Explore, Logistics) has run away from its cruel designer and is cowering alone in the desert. Miles’ kindness strikes a chord in the mechanical canine and the two become fast friends. However, the evil weapon developer wants A.X.L. back and sends some ruthless mercenaries to fetch. Sam is out to put a beating down on Miles after Sara (G), the daughter of Sam’s maid, gets sweet on Miles instead of Sam. What’s a robotic mutt to do?

Get a better agent, maybe. This is meant to be the first film in a franchise but no franchise has ever started out with bland, cardboard characters, a plot thin enough to see through and credibility stretching that would make Willy Wonka jealous. There are some fairly well-known adults in the cast (Lou Taylor Pucci, for example, plays a sniveling lab assistant) but for the most part the film rests on the shoulders of the young cast who simply aren’t up to the task.

While some of the digital effects are okay, really there isn’t enough to recommend this movie other than morbid curiosity. It isn’t the worst thing you’ll ever see but it is far from the best.

REASONS TO SEE: Some of the digital effects are ok.
REASONS TO AVOID: Stiff acting and a cliché-ridden script. Has all the negative qualities of an Afterschool special or an ABC Family Channel drama.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of mild profanity, some sci-fi action, teen peril and adult thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the first race, Miles wears a pink breast cancer ribbon. While this may imply his mother had (or even passed away as a result of) the disease, it is not specifically stated in the film that she was afflicted with it. Miles only comments that she died, never elaborating what of.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Netflix, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/7/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 27% positive reviews: Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Short Circuit
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
The ballad of Buster Scruggs

Crazy Rich Asians


Love, Singaporean style.

(2018) Romantic Comedy (Warner BrothersConstance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remy Hii, Nico Santos, Jing Lusi, Carmen Soo, Pierre Png, Fiona Xie, Victoria Loke, Janice Koh, Amy J. Cheng. Directed by Jon M. Chu

Fairy tales are powerful things. Doesn’t every little girl want to marry the prince and go riding off into the sunset together, preferably in the direction of a beautiful castle? Trust me, men have their fairy tales as well but we won’t get into those here.

Rachel Chu (Wu) is an economics professor at NYU and she’s been dating handsome Nick Young (Golding), a fellow academic, for more than a year. She’s headed to Singapore with him to attend his cousin (and best friend’s) wedding. When they get first class tickets on the airplane, she asks him how wealthy his family is. “We’re comfortable,” he says modestly. Yeah, they’re comfortable in the same way that Bill Gates is comfortable.

Nick’s mom (Yeoh), the imperious matriarch of the family, is none too pleased to see Rachel who even though her son is crazy about her is still nonetheless not even close to the kind of match that she had in mind for her son. Rachel will have to navigate the sometimes-treacherous waters of Nick’s family, aided by her college bestie Peik Lin (Awkwafina), if she is going to keep the man she loves.

America loves its rich folks and that helps the movie out a great deal. The fact that this is a largely Asian-American cast and crew is a big deal, and the movie gives us some insight into Chinese (primarily) culture and customs, and those are some of the more endearing moments of the film.

I can’t say enough about Constance Wu, one of the stars of Fresh Off the Boat. She has tons of charisma and likability; she has a big future ahead of her and not only as a romantic leading lady. She has the kind of presence that Awkwafina (who would break out this year in The Farewell) has, but with a touch more self-assuredness. Golding also has a ton of leading man appeal.

Although there are a few rom-com tropes here, they don’t necessarily get in the way of the enjoyment of this movie. After an over-profusion of the genre over the last 20 years, romantic comedies have fallen somewhat out of favor. With a fresh take on them as this one has and particularly after the kind of success it enjoyed (the highest box office for any romantic comedy in more than a decade), you can bet we’ll be seeing more of them in the near future. If they’re this good, I wouldn’t mind at all.

REASONS TO SEE: Constance Wu is a find. Culturally informative. Escapes most rom-com clichés.
REASONS TO AVOID: Sends some mixed messages about the institution of marriage.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexually suggestive content and a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Netflix offered to produce the movie at a substantially larger budget, but producer Kevin Kwan felt that it was important to prove to the studios that Asian-American movies were commercially viable. Netflix ended up producing Always Be My Maybe instead.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft,  Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/7/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews: Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pretty Woman
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
A.X.L.