Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper



CNS/Open Road Films

NEW YORK (CNS) -- OK, so there's this experimental robotic war dog, very high tech, that's been developed for the military by an evil (of course) corporation.
     But, since it's not only being tested but (so we're to understand) tormented in the lab, it breaks free and wanders into the desert. There mild-mannered teen motocross racer Miles Hill (Alex Neustaedter) happens upon the creature, tames it and bonds with it.
    Such is the contrived plot of the gentle but bland sci-fi adventure "A.X.L." (Global Road). And yes, the movie is all about the sight of Miles popping wheelies and flying aloft on his bike as his sidekick keeps pace. While potentially exhilarating to 11-year-old boys, that spectacle may leave older and more jaded moviegoers unmoved.
    Admittedly, Miles does provide a model of fear-conquering compassion and empathy during his first encounter with the canine.
    Understandably startled to come across such a beast, Miles takes to his cycle and tries to outrun it, only to be, shall we say, doggedly pursued. But, observing that the automaton -- whose initials, standing for Attack, Exploration and Logistics, provide the film's title -- has seriously hurt himself during the chase, Miles does his best to heal him.
    Finding that he's really a playful pup at heart, Miles dubs his new pal Axel and, for the remainder of the film, endeavors to keep him from attacking anyone, his aggressive programming notwithstanding. He also tries to prevent Axel from being recaptured.
    A dash of social relevance and the requisite love angle are both provided by Sarah (Becky G), the girl Miles would like to make his own. Though a gifted artist, Sarah finds her potential limited by the fact that her mother is a maid in the employ of the overprivileged Fontaine family -- whose nasty scion, Sam (Alex MacNicoll), is Miles' nemesis on the track.
    Since Sam treats Sarah as something between a girlfriend and a piece of property, he doesn't much care for the idea of her hanging around with Miles. Given his sadistic streak and fondness for flamethrowers, moreover, Sam also eventually poses yet another threat to Axel.
    The screenplay of writer-director Oliver Daly's feature debut, developed from his 2015 short "Miles," momentarily plays a bit fast and loose with property rights. Axel, unbeknownst to Miles and Sarah, takes it upon himself to help them out by interfering with the pump at a gas station so they can refill for free.
    He then practically drains a nearby cash machine, an achievement the couple celebrates by using $20 bills like confetti. The implicit message: the big old bank Axel has succeeded in depleting is no doubt just as wicked as the company that developed him, so where's the harm?
    Still, other objectionable elements are few and the main relationship chaste -- though those inclined to examine jots and tittles will find that the wrap-up can be interpreted as vaguely suggesting cohabitation. This is far from clearly established, however, so viewers reading the outcome in a more innocent light will not be without justification.
    The film contains some nonlethal violence, an incident of benignly viewed petty theft, an unfinished crude term and a few crass words. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.