Updated: Feb 7, 2020
A boy and his dog stories have long been pretty popular in Hollywood. It is an easy story to sell since audiences generally like watching animals show compassion and be cute on-screen. I touched on this exact same topic just last week in my review of Alpha, a story about a young man finding companionship with a wolf. That was a surprisingly enjoyable adventure tale. This week it comes up again thanks to A-X-L, which is about a young man becoming friends with a robot dog. It is much less enjoyable. Whereas Alpha had emotion and excitement, A-X-L only has a handful of decent stunts in a story that feels been there, done that.
The film follows Miles, a dirt bike racer living with his father and struggling to make ends meet. One day he stumbles across A-X-L (pronounced “Axle”), a large, mechanical dog who escaped from a military compound. Miles decides to help him, putting him in the crosshairs of the guy who built him.
If I made any of this sound interesting, I sincerely apologize. The central plot is not fully developed because it has to share screen time with Miles' relationship with a young woman he meets at a race and a dumb subplot featuring a spoiled jerk dirt bike rival. That last one takes up a lot of time despite never getting paid off in a satisfying way.
A-X-L has been written/directed by Oliver Daly, based on his seven minute long 2015 short film, Miles. Obviously he had to add a lot to it in order to expand his screenplay to feature length. Even with all of those distractions, the heart of the movie is in the bond between boy and dog. That is where Daly really failed.
I did not like the title character. I did not like the way he looked, the way he moved or the reason he was created. He is neither cute nor likable. It is made clear throughout the story he is only responding to his programming and it just so happened that Miles is the person who found him. That made it impossible for me to get invested in the link between those two characters.
While I can believe Miles feels compassion for A-X-L, the robot dog never felt like a sentient creature. I have cared about cinematic robots before. WALL-E is one of the most lovable creations I have ever seen in a movie. A-X-L, on the other hand, has no personality. He is a computer program. And not an interesting one.
A-X-L (89 minutes, minus the end credits) is a high concept family film without any imagination. It is made watchable by some of the performances, specifically Thomas Jane as Miles’ father. Additionally, Alex Neustaedter as Miles and Becky G as his love interest, Sara, have decent chemistry. It is possible children will be entertained seeing A-X-L do his tricks, though it may be a little too intense for younger kids, while not having enough action for older kids. Either way, parents will have to resist the urge to take out their cellphones.
1¾ out of 5
Alex Neustaedter as Miles
Becky G as Sara
Thomas Jane as Chuck Hill
Dominic Rains as Andric
Alex MacNicoll as Sam
Written and Directed by Oliver Daly