This may come as a shock, but “Max Steel,” a film based on a line of toys and dumped into 2,000 theaters without promotion by a small distributor, isn’t very good. A retread of every superhero origin story with a dash of “Transformers” thrown in, this is the pitiful tale of one Max McGrath (Ben Winchell), a high school student who discovers he has poorly defined supernatural abilities — his hands produce “liquid energy,” which basically means electrical interference — possibly as the result of the work that his scientist father (Mike Doyle) did before dying in a lab accident. When these powers start to emerge, Max is contacted by Steel (voice of Josh Brener), a wise-cracking alien that looks like a drone and is tasked with helping Max use his abilities to save the Earth from whatever.
Steel is the kind of movie alien who’s confused by Earth life — he doesn’t know what Max means by “my mom,” for example — yet speaks in modern slang and uses phrases like “all caps.” And he’s the kind of movie sidekick who constantly reiterates how much danger they’re in, yet can’t shut up when Max hides him in his backpack. This results in “comedy,” and in Max spending most of the film sputtering, panicking, and lying to his mom (Maria Bello), his crush (Ana Villafañe), and his dad’s former science partner (Andy Garcia), who — I hope you are prepared for more shocks — might be the bad guy.
Aimed at middle-schoolers, directed by Stewart Hendler (“Sorority Row”), and written by Christopher Yost (who’s scripted a lot of animated Marvel TV shows), “Max Steel” is mostly set-up, with scenes of actual adventure and heroism vastly outnumbered by scenes of Max and Steel bantering. When things do get poppin’, they pop about as impressively as they do on weekday-afternoon children’s TV shows, with cheap-looking effects and un-thrilling fights. Kids are probably better off playing with the action figures and making up their own stories.
C (1 hr., 32 min.; )