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

The Final Wish


Mirror, mirror on the wall…

(2018) Horror (Cinedigm) Lin Shaye, Michael Welch, Melissa Bolona, Spencer Locke, Tony Todd, Kalwi Lyman, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Jean Elie, Christopher Murray, Douglas Tait, Larry Poole, Garrett Edell, Michelle Burke, Timothy Oman, Dey Young, Gordon Woloson, Mohamed Mohson, Diane Markoff, Jeffrey Reddick, Zebulun Huling, Barbara de Normandie, Randi Lamey. Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr

 

The old saying goes “Be careful what you wish for” and that is especially true in a horror film. Wishes may from time to time be granted, but almost never in the way you expect and always – ALWAYS – at a price.

Aaron Hammond (Welch) graduated law school from essentially an online school but that hasn’t led to the dream job at a prestigious firm he was dreaming of. He is basically unemployed, unable to pay his rent on his squalid Chicago apartment and being demeaned at interviews by haughty lawyers who prefer Ivy League candidates.

Locked out of his apartment for failure to pay the rent, his day goes from awful to horrible when his ex-girlfriend calls to inform him that his father has passed away. Coming home to his small central California town isn’t exactly the tonic he was looking for; his mom Kate (Shaye) is almost bi-polar, at turns happy to see him and then furious at what she sees as his abandonment of his parents. The aforementioned ex, Lisa (Bolona) is married to Derek (Lyman), known as “Douchebag Derek” back in high school in Aaron’s circle and now the town sheriff when he isn’t busy physically abusing his wife.

Clearing out Dad’s antique shop has yielded some curious looking artifacts, including an urn with a ram’s head on the cover. As a depressed Aaron wishes for a better life, his wishes start to come true but in awful ways; a wish that he could be better looking results in him being hit by a car driven by his friend Jeremy (Elie) and requiring plastic surgery. A wish that his mother could be happy leads to his father returning as a zombie. You know, those sorts of things.

This is where Dad’s antiques buyer Colin (Todd) drops into the picture to explain what’s going on. It turns out that the urn is actually the receptacle for a djinn and no, this is not the kind of blue genie that croons “You never had a friend like me.” This is a hideous creature that draws its power from wishes and once seven of them have been granted, takes possession of the soul of the user. And Aaron has used up six of them…

This is a fairly clever horror flick from the writer of Final Destination. Some of the death scenes have that kind of Rube Goldberg-like complexity to them which made that franchise so entertaining; some are much more straightforward. Some of these complex scenes have nothing to do with deaths either which is an interesting twist on the FD franchise.

Any horror movie that has Lin Shaye in it is welcome and in that regard The Final Wish doesn’t disappoint. Shaye is at the top of her game, giving Kate a truly hard-to-read character. She may be a little over-the-top in places but only when the scene calls for it. Horror icon Tony Todd also has a cameo and while he does as good a job as always, the part feels like it was hastily added for expository purposes, dropped suddenly into the film and dropping just as suddenly out of it.

Welch is a competent lead; Aaron is something of a selfish jerk and Welch is able to make the character somewhat sympathetic nonetheless. This is a good performance for the resume. Bolona is pretty and present as the girlfriend but she’s given not a lot to work with. I did like Jonathan Daniel Brown as the nerdy best friend who carries with him a whopper of a secret.

I have to say that the production design is impressive; the interior of the house is suitably spooky with Dad’s very creepy antiques scattered around. Since a lot of the action takes place at night, the shadows add to the tone. It’s not haunted house spooky but you are always nervously glancing at the shadows waiting for something to leap out; something with fangs and horns, most likely.

I can’t say that this is groundbreaking; it really isn’t. There are plenty of djinn tales that are plenty more interesting than this one. Frankly it could have used a little more camp. However, it has enough going for it that horror buffs are likely to find this entertaining. Everyone else it’s probably not going to be too high on the list, although the end twist is a pretty cool one.

REASONS TO GO: The production design is really well done.
REASONS TO STAY: The writing is more than a little bit sloppy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence and gore, plenty of profanity, some disturbing images and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the same house that was used in Annabelle: Creation.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/25/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Wishmaster
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Dead Ant