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Movie Review

Miles Hill really wants to be a motocross champ. He’s certainly got the skills. And his mechanic dad, Chuck, is more than willing to support him on the weekends.

Let’s face it, though, hitting the circuit and winning championships takes a lot more than skill, a patched-together bike and a loving dad. Those things are all great. But really making a career out of racing takes money and corporate sponsorship. And that’s the stuff that Miles can’t seem to get even a whiff of.

A local teen named Sam Fontaine, however, has all that in spades. His dad is rich. His equipment is top shelf. He’s got sponsors lining up. He also has an ego the size of a small country.

Sam dangles the hope of friendship and influence in front of Miles just long enough to pull a nasty, painful, humiliating prank on the talented kid. Oh, and he also leaves Miles stranded out in the middle of nowhere with a damaged bike.

Yeah, that Sam is a real pal.

While Miles repairs his ride, he can’t help but think his dad might just be right. School and a good education may indeed be the only way to go. But while trying to find a way out of his predicament, Miles finds something else. Something that takes his mind off his worries: a dog.

It’s not just any dog, mind you. This is a big metal war dog. The A.I. variety. Yeah, it’s an A.X.L., which Miles later finds out stands for Attack, Exploration and Logistics. It’s designed to be a high-tech motorized military sidekick of some sort, and it's out here in the middle of a patch of desert and scrub grass.

Is it hiding? Was it smart enough to run away? Why does it seem to have bullet holes in it? Is it as deadly as it’s glowing red eyes, huge steel paws and grinding sharp metal teeth might indicate?

Whatever the case, Miles recognizes that the bimetallic beasty needs a bit of help. He even scavenges parts from his own bike to help patch the A.X.L. up.

And the smart robo-dog also recognizes a few things of its own with its advanced multimillion-dollar computer brain: This human is a friend. He can be trusted. And before you know it, the two have formed a biometric bond. Yep, you could say that Miles and A.X.L. have become a modern version of a boy and his dog.

Sure, this discovery still won’t help with Miles’ motocross dreams. But hey, having a huge metallic best friend might just have its perks.

At least, that is, until it's owner comes looking for it.

Positive Elements

Miles is a decent, compassionate guy. Someone with a more mischievous mind might come up with a lot of negative things to do with a robot dog. For the most part though, this older teen (who's apparently graduated from high school but not yet gone to college) seems most concerned about protecting the military mech. He even apologizes when he realizes that he’s misused the “power” of his new pet.

Miles meets a pretty teen girl named Sara who’s equally kind and upright. She helps Miles out during a moment of need at a race when Miles' bike breaks down. Turns out Sara’s mom is the housekeeper for Sam Fontaine’s family, so she tends to have to cater to Sam’s self-focused whims so that her mother won’t be fired. But Sara still reaches out to help Miles on a number of occasions.

When Sara first learns about the A.X.L., she actually wants to do what she considers the “right thing” and report it to the authorities. Miles argues against doing that, since it appears that the prototype robo-animal was abused by its owners.

Gradually, even robotic A.X.L. takes on Miles’ and Sara’s compassionate traits—at one point damaging itself rather than hurting others.

Spiritual Content

None.

Sexual Content

Sara wears revealing outfits, including short-shorts and tops that continually expose a lot of cleavage and midriff. She's shown in bikini top as well. At times, it seems as if the camera goes out of its way to focus on her physique, something that's easily the biggest concern in a movie that's clearly aimed at a young audience.

We see other teen girls in similarly skimpy clothing that's both tight and revealing. Sam's shown stripping off his shirt a couple of times. Miles and Sara kiss. (Though, to the film's credit, when they end up spending a night together in the desert, the only thing that happens is Sara putting her head on his shoulder.)

At one point, Miles insists that Sara refer to A.X.L. as a “he” rather than an “it.” Sara retorts, “You checked?”

Violent Content

In the course of his high-flying motocross racing and jumping Miles gets banged and thumped around quite a lot. He suffers big crashes on several occasions. We see scrapes on his arms and a raw-looking abrasion on his neck. He also ends up with his arm in a cast after a failed motorcycle jump off a cliff.

Military personnel threaten people with rifles and other weapons. Miles’ dad is held at gunpoint by a paramilitary type; but Chuck then turns the table and threatens that armed intruder with a bow and arrow of his own. Sara and Miles struggle with a couple of armed thugs, too. A man threatens to hurt Sara with the A.X.L. if Miles doesn’t do as he says.

Sam has a predilection for destroying things with a flamethrower and he uses that device to burn a car, throw flames at a passing bike rider and incinerate A.X.L., too. Sam and Miles get into a brief, fist-swinging fight.

For its part, the A.X.L. menaces a number of people with its grinding, blade-like teeth, including Miles and Sara. It's implied that the digi-doggie is more than capable of killing anyone that its programming deems to be a threat or enemy. And at one point, it does seem bent on something like revenge against Sam after the teen tries to destroy it with a flamethrower. (An implement, one could rightly argue, no teen guy really needs access to.)

But the worst A.X.L. ever does is tackle and drag one person around by his ankle, and thump and rake at someone else. We also see a victim with what looks like claw marks on his bare chest. In actuality, though, the mechanical dog gets worse than it gives. The metal beast is impaled with a large metal spike, incapacitated with electric shocks, set afire and shot at.

Several scenes throughout the film involve reckless motorcycle chases that include some big jumps.

[Spoiler Warning] Eventually A.X.L. self-destructs in a huge explosion, a conclusion that could be especially difficult for younger viewers who've bonded with the story's hero.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear one s-word. In a tense moment, a young woman clearly mouths "oh my god," though we don't actually hear it.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Several parties at Sam's house (when his parents are out of town) are indulgent affairs, involving all manner of culinary excess (huge pizzas, enormous sub sandwiches, whipped cream, etc.). At each of these soirees, we see teens drinking from red cups as they get increasingly rowdy, though it's not completely clear what beverages are actually in those containers.

That said, a conversation between Miles and his father the morning after one of these benders suggests that he has a hangover. (Miles complains about loud noises and his father suggests that maybe he needs to quit partying quite so hard.)

Miles and Sara are grabbed and rendered unconscious with chloroform.

Other Negative Elements

A.X.L. uses his robotic skills to electronically manipulate a gas pump and to steal cash from an ATM machine. A surprised Miles and Sara take the money and run (a choice that the film apparently wants us to minimize in light of the perils the teens are facing.)

As mentioned above, both Sara and Miles' dad try to talk him in to turning A.X.L. in, because it's not Miles' property. Miles repeatedly argues that he's justified in keeping the "pooch" because of how it's obviously been mistreated. But Miles' situational ethics here definitely deserve further conversation for any families who see this film.

Miles spends several days in the desert, including overnights two evenings in a row, and he never bothers to call his father to say where he is. (Sara is present for the second night, and she's apparently told her mom she's spending the night with a friend.)

Craine Industries, the tech company that created the A.X.L., isn’t above taking illegal and immoral steps to protect its $70 million creation. And even though he thinks it could result in someone getting hurt (or even killed), the head of Craine Industries is willing to let Miles be a human test subject with A.X.L.

Elsewhere, a couple guys from Sam’s crew purposely spike Miles’ gas tank with some engine-damaging fluid, which results in a nasty crash when the bike breaks down just before a huge jump. As Miles rolls in groaning agony on the ground, clearly injured, Sam instructs his posse to load up the bikes into their trucks and abandon him. (Though they do leave him some gas to, it would seem, enable him to ride back into town.)

Conclusion

If you were a bullied teen who just happened to stumble upon a huge robotic dog, what would you do? Well, probably a bunch of stuff that was a whole lot more destructive and potentially painful than what good guy Miles and his love interest, Sara, do here.

And, you know what? That cinematic restraint deserves a thumbs-up in quite a few ways.

Director Oliver Daly creates a pretty decent robo action pic that doesn’t get too aggressive or world-wrenching. The film’s metal war dog protagonist looks like it could rip any resident ruffian into kibble bits, but Daly knows we don’t have to actually see that. Instead, we only see a baddie or two get tossed about like a fetchable stick for a while.

At the same time, the director adds in some cool motocross-boy-and-his-super-dog stunts, a dash of cute-girl-next-door romance and a sprinkle of bad-guy military menace. Ultimately, A.X.L. ends up feeling like a smart, self-sacrificial battle-pup that you wouldn’t mind settling down at the foot of your bed at night. (Even if he is as big as your Fiat and probably consumes more gas.)

Frankly, this pic might look pretty conventional and tame to action-movie fans who are used to films that tear down cities and kill everyone. A-X-L, in contrast, feels like a throwback, the kind of PG movie Hollywood used to crank out like popcorn, but rarely makes any more.

As mentioned above, a couple problem areas still creep into the mix here. We get some winks at teen partying and drinking. More obvious, though, is the camera's frequent ogling of Sara, focusing on her revealing outfits. Sure, Sara and Miles' relationship never seems to go past a kiss. But the objectification of her character here felt out of a place in a film that mostly tried to minimize other obvious content concerns.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Alex Neustaedter as Miles; Becky G as Sara; Thomas Jane as Chuck Hill; Alex MacNicoll as Sam; Dominic Rains as Andric

Director

Oliver Daly ( )

Distributor

Global Road Entertainment

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

August 24, 2018

On Video

January 1, 2019

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Bob Hoose

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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