Movie Review: A-X-L

September 10, 2018

WE’VE had a lot of dog movies from Lassie and Rin Tin Tin to Hachiko and Max. Now comes another movie about a dog, but this time, it’s a different kind of dog as it’s a robot dog called A.X.L., who was developed by the military to be a weapon meant as the war dog of the future.

The lead human is Miles (Alex Neustaedter), a teenage boy who lives with his widowed dad, Chuck (Thomas Jane.) His father wants him to go to college but he believes that he’s bad at everything except joining Motocross races. His biggest competitor is Sam Fontaine (Alex MacNicoll), who has a very rich dad to back him up. His best friend is Sara Reyes (Becky G), whose mom works for the Fontaines.

Sam and his friends abandon Miles in the desert after an accident. This is where the stranded Miles meets the huge robotic dog called A.X.L. (for Attack, Exploration, Logistics), a name given to him by his inventor-creator, Andric (Dominic Rains.) He’s said to cost $70 million no less. Miles sees A.X.L. hiding and cowering in a large crate in a junkyard after escaping from a nearby military facility in the Southwest.

Of course, they start as adversaries, even if Miles tells the robot dog: “I’m not going to hurt you.” A.X.L. even nearly kills Miles after a tiring chase. But (just like the boy and the wolf in “Alpha”), Miles tends to the wounds of A.X.L., repairing him like he would do to his motorbike. He also finds a way to activate the robot’s owner-pairing technology and soon, they’re bonding well and playing together and treating each other with loyalty, trust and compassion.

This sort of proves that robotic dogs can also be a man’s best friend, just like real canines. A.X.L. even helps Miles gain the self-confidence that he lacks and A.X.L. will do everything to protect his new found friend.

Sara, proudly displaying her bare midriff in every scene, soon joins them and they try to figure out what to do with their robotic friend. A.X.L. helps them also as he’s a computer hacker and he’s able to get them lots of cash from an ATM machine. Unknown to them, their movements are being tracked down by Andric and his whiny lab assistant, Randall (Lou Pucci), who gets to provide some comic relief.

Andric is enthralled to see that his robot dog is capable of bonding with humans. The villainous Sam then attacks A.X.L. and uses a flamethrower to set him on fire. Miles and Sara try to repair him while drones sent by the military are trying to track them down, wanting to get A.X.L. back. Of course, Miles and Sara will team up to protect A.X.L. from the military who wants to reclaim as they know what’s at stake if he would be captured back.

Written and directed by Oliver Daly, the robot dog is created through a combination of CGI and puppetry. In all fairness, A.X.L. comes alive on screen looking reasonably convincing. The thrilling motocross setting adds to the excitement, aided and abetted by the synth-heavy musical score that gives the movie a fun retro 80s vibe.

The movie also asks us the question we’ve seen in other movies about robots. Do robots have souls? Do they have a conscience and the will to act on their own? We all know real dogs can truly love and be so devoted to their masters, but is A.X.L. capable of this? In the core of the movie, this remains to be a boy and his dog story and it manages to be quite touching at some point.

A.X.L. can be cute with his advanced artificIal intelligence. He can even shoot out colorful disco lights from his head, but don’t ask anymore about the why’s and wherefores of the secret technologies of the U.S. military as the movie don’t provide any answer.