Reel Reviews: Dog days at the movies

By on August 29, 2018

A.X.L. is a top-secret, robotic dog who develops a special friendship with Miles and will go to any length to protect his new companion.


Come. Sit.

As a dog lover, when I learned there were back-to-back releases featuring stories about dogs I was all in to fetch both shows. Evidently &tstr; based on the box office numbers* &tstr; I was one of only a handful drawn to this subgenre of movies based on canines.

My 8-year old son was the one who first told me about “A-X-L.” To paraphrase him, “It’s about a robot dog, like a military dog robot, who becomes friends with a kid.” And my eight-year-old was the perfect audience for this PG-rated action flick.

A-X-L is a prototype, robotic weapon built to imitate our real furry friends, but also serve as trained combatants in the next evolution of fighting forces. When A-X-L escapes his lab, he becomes friends with an underdog &tstr; no pun intended &tstr; motocross kid named Miles (Alex Neustaedter). With the help of Sara (Becky G, a pop singer who also played the yellow ranger in the recent “Power Rangers”), Miles and the fidobot try to stay out of the reach of the government while battling a racetrack bully named Sam (Alex MacNicoll).

Despite a bunch of subpar acting (mostly by the supporting cast) and cheesy bits of dialogue, this movie is super clean and a whole lot of fun. I’m glad I listened to my own inner eight-year-old and ponied up the cash to see this movie. Now, let’s see who else will drop some money on this movie so we can have a sequel that does not go straight to DVD.

“I liked this one better than the other one,” said my eight-year-old, who I took to see both movies in this column. The “other one” being “Alpha,” reviewed next. “I liked the story of (“Alpha”) better, but this was much cooler.”

Reviewer Michael Upton calls “Alpha,” “visually stunning” and “a gem hidden in plain sight amongst a pile of rubble at the box office.”


At the opposite end of the dog tale spectrum is “Alpha,” the story of the first domesticated dog. This potential sleeper film is written and directed by Albert Hughes, the same guy who brought us “The Book of Eli” and “Dead Presidents,” and is visually stunning.

Set during the last Ice Age, we meet Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee, Nightcrawler in the newest X-Men incarnations) and his tribe of hunter-gatherers as they engage in a ceremonial big game hunt. Keda becomes lost and wounded and comes to the aid of a wolf, who helps him on his journey home.

To go back to “visually stunning,” this movie is a theater must-see; at home on the television this picture will lose a lot of its magic. The movie was filmed in Cougar Buttes in the Lucerne Valley of California; Vancouver and Alberta, Canada; and Iceland. “Alpha” is a gem hidden in plain sight amongst a pile of rubble at the box office.

*It has been an abysmal few weeks for new movies. In its fifth weekend “Mission: Impossible ­Fallout” finally made back its $178 million budget; “Mile 22” flopped as “Crazy Rich Asians” has met with both critical acclaim and disapproval; and this week’s release of “The Happytime Murders” was subpar and could not topple “The Meg.” Stay tuned for “Searching” starring John Cho to reach a larger portion of theaters, but the doldrums may continue until October when we get “Venom,” “Goosebumps 2,” and perhaps a look at an Oscar nominee in “The Happy Prince.”

Agree or disagree? Reel Reviews works like this: 1) Watch a movie; 2) Send suggestions, comments and criticism to Michael at

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