Review: Max Cloud

Year: 2020
Runtime: 88 minutes
Director: Martin Owen
Writer: Sally Collett & Martin OWen
Stars: Scott Adkins, Tommy Flanagan, Lashana Lynch, Elliot Langridge, Sally Collett, Franz Drameh and John Hannah

By Harris Dang

“The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud” (2020) (or Max Cloud for short). Now that is a title that many people would get behind. It sounds nostalgic due to how referential it is in terms of adventure, it sounds fun as it clearly encapsulates the many possibilities of fantasy and science-fiction and it sounds comical in the sense that it can be the perfect respite for the year that is 2020.  The film promises to be a real winner, with a fantastic cast led by martial arts extraordinaire Scott Adkins. Does the film reach up to the stars and beyond?
Set in Brooklyn in 1990, we follow Sarah (Isabelle Allen), a slacker teenager who spends the majority of her days swimming in the 16-bit pool of her favorite video game, Max Cloud. Her father (Craig Thomas Lambert) shows major concern over her videogame hijinks and encourages her to go out more instead of staying inside the house. She is supported however by her best friend Cowboy (Franz Drameh) as he pops by the house on occasion to hang out with her. After an argument with her father telling her to stop playing videogames, Sarah cries to herself that she wishes to exist inside her favorite game. And as fast as the use of a star in Mario Bros. disappears, she is transported (thanks to the magic of the Space Witch, played by Jason Maza) into the body of a character called Jake (played by Elliot James Langridge), a teammate of the titular character, Max Cloud (Scott Adkins). The team consists of the two men and Rexy (actress/co-writer Sally Collett) and eventually Brock Donnelly (Tommy Flanagan). They have to fight the evil yet self-conscious Revengor (John Hannah) and his villainous cronies including the nefarious Shee (Lashana Lynch) on the planet Heinous in order to save the world from impending doom! Will Sarah ever get back to the real world with the help of Cowboy on the other side? Will Max Cloud and his team manage to defeat Revengor and save the day?!
Let’s start with the positives. The filmmakers including writer/director Martin Owen and co-writer Sally Collett clearly know their stuff when it comes to retro videogames. The side-scrolling aesthetic, the copious amounts of exposition, the character designs, the many references to other retro games like Mortal Kombat and the pantomime performances all hearken back to videogames as well as past genre storytelling remarkably well. The cinematography by Havad Halle and the art direction by Olivia Young vividly bring the worlds to life on what must have been a modest budget. The performances from the cast all lend genuine charm and enthusiasm in their one-dimensional (albeit intentionally) roles as it allows the actors to loosen up and have fun. Adkins is a hoot as the total blowhard that is Max Cloud. He grins, bullies, smirks, kicks ass and shoots down bad guys without breaking a sweat and Adkins looks like he is having a blast while doing it. It is nice to see Adkins expand his acting range by going into comedy and like his fellow colleague Michael Jai White (ala “Black Dynamite” [2009]), Adkins has paved himself a different path for his career should he choose to take it. Lambert (as Jake, the proxy of Sarah) is a bit of a cipher as a character but he is a good sport in terms of throwing himself into the comedy – including a scene where the game controller is left locked in, therefore Jake is seen walking into a wall for a long period of time – with spirit. Collett as Rexy is more interesting as she is far more capable for the mission and she provides a good foil for both Jake and Cloud.
It is a shame that with all of its positives, Max Cloud does not provide a wholly satisfying experience. The story is very derivative of other films including “Tron” (1982), “Ready Player One” (2018), “Existenz” (1999), “Jumanji – Welcome to the Jungle” (2017) and its sequel in that it never feels like its own beast, lacking a sense of true identity. To be fair, that would not be a true problem if the film displayed some innovation and there are some inspired moments, e.g. gender politics and visual aesthetics including a scene when our heroes fight a big monster of sorts where the battle scene is shown through 16-bit game footage. However, the same idea is repeated ad nauseum to the point that it feels like an excuse to avoid budget restrictions rather than a creative choice. Speaking of things repeated ad nauseum, the comedy routines that the actors are saddled with are unfortunately one-note. Seeing Adkins playing the swagger of Max Cloud is fun initially but when that is the only joke he has it comes off as tiring and eventually annoying, which is a shame since the actors try really hard. The pacing and the lack of immersion in the storytelling does not help as it feels like the film has been stretched out to feature length due to its minimal plot and the lack of film sets. Considering the talent involved as well as the fun premise, “The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud” should have been a lot more fun than it is. Despite the game performances (especially from Adkins) and some enjoyable action scenes (including a singular take sequence), the budget limitations, the slow pacing, the leaden comedy and the derivative nature let the film down.
“Max Cloud” is available on digital platforms now.

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