'Max Steel': Film Review

As lifeless as the action hero it's based on.

This teenage superhero movie recounts the origin tale of the character based on the Mattel action figure.

Even tweens may find themselves underwhelmed by the new live-action film based on what — for many of them — may be their favorite Mattel action figure. Delivering a bland cinematic origin story which seems calculated to boost Christmas toy sales, Max Steel is a stillborn, would-be franchise starter, sneaked into multiplexes without advance critic screenings.  

The story revolves around sixteen-year-old Max McGrath (Ben Winchell, perfect for posters on teenage girls' walls), who moves to a new town with his widowed mother Molly (Maria Bello). Max's scientist father was killed years earlier in an industrial accident that may or may not have been caused by a tornado. More than once, Max is told by people he meets, including his dad's former colleague (Andy Garcia), that his father "was a very special man."

Max is just starting to develop a romantic relationship with the attractive young Sophia (Ana Villafane) when he's distracted by his sudden ability to…well, it's hard to know exactly, since the film's special effects aren't exactly cutting edge. Suffice it to say that the alarmed young man does an internet search for the phrase "My fingers emit liquid energy." (If you try it yourself, you'll find that the results are disappointing.)

Even more strangely, he's suddenly visited by "Steel," who looks like a one-eyed drone as designed by Disney and who describes himself as a "parasitic, silicon-based lifeform." Whatever he is, as voiced by actor Josh Brener he's a genuinely annoying character.

Together, Max and Steel become, you guessed it, "Max Steel," a "turbo charged superhero" (as the film's publicity puts it) who wears an armored suit and has the ability to fly, among other things. They find themselves pursued by forces working on behalf of the alien "Ultralinks" who are clearly up to no good. Or something like that.

By the time that Winchell and Garcia engage in a fierce battle wearing the sort of dark latex costumes that would make them very popular in certain West Village nightspots, the film has already become unintentionally laughable. As the stuntmen duke it out and we see close-ups of the two actors making silly faces, it's hard not imagine a Mystery Science Theater 3000 feature in the making.

What's truly depressing about the whole enterprise is that Garcia and Bello were pulled into it. Yes, actors love to work and bills need to be paid, but perhaps a fund could be started to spare talented thespians this sort of career embarrassment.  

Production: Dolphin Entertainment, Ingenious Media, Mattel Entertainment, Open Road Films, Playground Productions
Distributor: Open Road Films
Cast: Ben Winchell, Josh Brener, Ana Villafane, Andy Garcia, Maria Bello, Billy Slaughter
Director: Stewart Hendler
Screenwriter: Christopher Yost
Producers: Bill O'Dowd, Julia Pistor
Executive producers: Charlie Cohen, David Voss, Doug Wadleigh
Director of photography: Brett Pawlak
Production designer: William O'Hunter
Editor: Michael Louis Hill
Costume designer: Allison Leach
Composer: Nathan Lanier
Casting: Manny Arca, Rich Delia
Rated PG-13, 92 min.