Kin AXL: AXL Feature

Welcome to another edition of Short Take Reviews. We bring you the reviews of films too slight, too old or both to justify full reviews. This week on the Short Take docket, a theme edition. I tackle A.X.L., about a boy and his military grade metal dog/killing machine and KIN, about a boy and his alien military grade firearm/brother bonding catalyst.

AXL: Destructive Doggo Selfie Correct Size
Becky G and Alex Neustaedter get in nice and tight to the destructive doggo in a scene from A.X.L. Image Courtesy of Global Road Entertainment.

Short Take: A.X.L.

The first thing that one must acknowledge about A.X.L. is that it looks pretty slick. The movie that sunk Global Road Entertainment — for real, check it out — with its relatively meager 10 million dollar budget manages to create a robotic dog that would match up to most of the robots from Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS film with relatively little tweaking. If anything, the titular A.X.L. is less ugly and has a smoother design.

Unfortunately, I have run out of compliments.

The film, adapted by first-time feature film writer and director Oliver Daly from his short MILES, concerns a poor motor crosser, Miles (Alex Neustaedter), struggling to make it. His biggest competitor, Sam (Alex MacNicoll), has an insanely wealthy family and a boatload of sponsors funding him. Nonetheless, Miles achieves victory in a qualifying race with only the help of his father, Chuck (Thomas Jane), and a chain Sam’s housekeeper’s daughter, Sara (Becky G.), stole on Miles’ behalf.

After the victory, Sam seems ready to bring Miles into his circle of friends. Yet, all he can speak of is the father who sees his son only as an extension of himself. As a result, Sam has everything he could ever want except a parent who seems to care about him as a person.

We never get a clear idea if Sam’s presentation is all an act or not, but we do find out quickly he has no intentions of being friends with Miles as he sugars our protagonist’s gas tank, films the results, and leaves him injured and humiliated in a nondescript desert/random junk lot.

There Miles meets our steel slayer. Corporate intrigue, teen love, and more follow in ever so slow a fashion.

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That’s A Wrap

Even at just 98 minutes, the film moves like it is underwater. The first 10 or so minutes is consumed by two motor cross races. Worse, they feel like they go on twice that length. Even worse still? That titanium pooch will not arrive for another 20 or minutes.

Second, A.X.L., despite being a pretty strong special effect, is relatively personality-less. He looks like a dog and kind of acts like one, but he lacks the charm of the flesh and blood edition. Without that, you cannot help but agree with every person who tells Miles to turn A.X.L. over to his creators. Why has he imprinted on the platinum pupper when you, as a viewer, certainly have not?

Third, the movie is riddled with clichés. At first Sam shows promise as the spoiled rich favorite who might actually be a decent guy. He seems to understand he has that he has privilege and that it is both an advantage and a toxic prison due to how it connects him to his father. Then, it turns out he hates Miles after all. Yawn.

One could, perhaps, argue Sam’s betrayal is owed to his feelings for Sara. Dialogue later on certainly seems to indicate that. However, the rich jerk never relates to her in any way that indicates he has a crush even after those lines are spoken. If anything, they seemed to have an interesting brother-sister vibe going on. Alas, the movie ditches that for the tired love triangle.

These same problems go on for the rest of the movie too. It is cliché over innovation every time with A.X.L.

KIN: Kin's Space Gun Correct Size
Myles Truitt wields one of those newfangled space guns — pew! pew! — while Jack Reynor surveys the damage in a scene from KIN. Image Courtesy of Lionsgate.

Short Take: KIN

Besides the “boys and toys” motif of these Short Take Reviews, KIN and A.X.L. share another odd feature. KIN also began life as a short before graduating to a feature. In this case, the writer-director brothers of BAG MAN, Jonathan and Josh Baker, direct this feature length adaptation. However, unlike Oliver Daly, they elected not to write the screenplay. That honor went to Daniel Casey who does not have much by way of credits yet, but he is set to write the next installment of the FAST AND/OR FURIOUS franchise and an adaptation of the latest Ed Brubaker/Michael Lark series KILL OR BE KILLED.

Unlike A.X.L., I could not find the budget for KIN online but is appears to be a similarly “impressive for the money” film that nonetheless failed to make back its budget at the box office.

KIN proves a much better film overall though.

A big reason is the (possibly Fabulous) Baker Brothers have a keener eye, I’d argue, than Daly. They develop a stronger sense of place for the film as the film’s brotherly duo leave a version of Detroit on the edge of absolute ruin for a road trip to a California cabin that their mother once loved. As they travel the back roads and small towns of America, we get a glimpse of a just-a-day-away future. Abandoned buildings, economic exploitation, and crumbling motels dot the landscape. It is a place where even the kings look more like paupers.

I also appreciated the subtle way they incorporated sci-fi looks into average locales — strip clubs, small police stations — in a way that upped the visual look without feeling ridiculous.

PEPPERMINT More Bitter Than Sweet

A Bit of Plot

A very good Myles Truitt plays Eli the younger adopted son of widower Hal Solinski (Dennis Quaid). Just after Eli joined the family, the Solinskis’ biological son Jimmy (Jack Reynor) went to jail for theft. Since then, Hal’s wife/the mother of Jimmy and Eli has died. By implication we know the already taciturn Hal has grown even more rigid and affection withholding since her death.

Jimmy’s return upends the whole apple cart. With a house unsettled, Hal grows more suspicious, catching Eli scavenging empty warehouses for copper and aluminum. Concerned this is but a prelude to a fall from grace akin to his eldest’s, Hal drags Eli out of the house to contact the various warehouse owners and beg for clemency.

Instead, tragedy strikes and Jimmy quickly takes Eli on the road. Unbeknownst to Jimmy, Eli is strapped with a futuristic weapon he found amongst a collection of what appeared to be aliens with a love of motorcycle racer aesthetics. Unbeknowst to Eli, small-time enforcer and extorter Taylor has poured his energy into pursuing them. Add in cops chasing all parties and more of those motorcycle fan aliens wanting back their lost tech and. Things. Are. Complicated.

KIN: Cleaners
The fashion forward motorcyclists known as the cleaners from KIN. Image Courtesy of Lionsgate.

That’s A Wrap

KIN is a very bro-y affair. Zoe Kravitz’s role as an erotic dancer turned surrogate mom/sister and a very late appearance by Carrie Coon did little to alter this. Their roles are too small and too paper thin to register, truly.

Nonetheless, KIN is a far better sit than the slightly shorter A.X.L. For one, Truitt is a far better lead. He, Quaid, and Reynor have better chemistry than Neustaedter and anyone. Heck even Truitt and Kravitz were better together and, as already mentioned, Kravitz had nothing to work with.

As noted above, the movie nicely captures an America at the fringes as well. It is rare — and rarer still in science fiction — to find a film that does that without a sense of pity or parody.

The only thing hamstringing me from given it an unqualified recommendation comes from the ending. While it hints at intriguing questions, the ending feels largely like a big splash at the end of quieter, more insular film. Additionally, it functions as a kind of deus ex machina, erasing would could have been a sadder but also more thought provoking conclusion.

Still, I like that the movie takes a big stroke even if ends with more like a bloop single than a home run.

Overall, KIN’s ambition would probably put it over on A.X.L. all on its own. However, I find KIN is also a better constructed film that offers some stronger visuals, a better sense of pacing, and sense of place than its other “boy with toy” competition.

If you enjoyed this review, check out more fun antics in SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN on Comixology!

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