First introduced in 1997, Mattel's "Max Steel" toy line has inspired two animated series and now a new live-action adventure. But while the proverbial "'90s kids" may get a nostalgic kick out of seeing their old action figures in the flesh, novices are likely to be bored by a movie that feels more like a failed pilot for a TV show.
Ben Winchell gives a likable performance as Max McGrath, a teenager who moves into his late father's old house with his mom (Maria Bello), and begins investigating his dad's old tech company. The more Max digs, the more strange things begin to happen. Before long, he's up late googling "my fingers emit liquid energy."
The film livens when Max meets Steel, a small flying alien robot with the wisecracking voice of Josh Brener. Steel fills the newly super-powered teen in on where his new abilities come from, all while providing occasional comic relief.
But it takes too long for Max's costar to arrive; and even after he does, "Max Steel" never builds much momentum because it's too busy serving as an origin story. Director Stewart Hendler and screenwriter Christopher Yost fill time with bland scenes involving the hero's love interest (played by the lively Ana Villafañe, who deserves a better role) and his father's mysterious associate (Andy Garcia).
At its best, "Max Steel" shares elements with "Smallville" and "Teen Wolf," using the supernatural as a metaphor for awkward adolescence. At its worst, it's more like "Transformers" — an extended toy commercial, noisy and forgettable.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for some sci-fi action violence
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: In general release