Feb 7, 2021

The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud [12A]

Dir: Martin Owen
Max Cloud (Scott Adkins) has crash-landed on an unfamiliar planet. His ship is in need of repair, but he’s also got to survive attacks from the inhabitants of an intergalactic prison that is also housed on the planet. That’s the plot of the videogame being played by Sarah (Isabelle Allen) in Brooklyn in 1990. One night, she finds herself sucked in to the world of the game and, with the help of her friend Cowboy (Franz Drameh), controlling her game character from the outside, she must complete the game in order to escape.

From the trailer, The Intergalactic Adventures Of Max Cloud looked like fun; a tongue in cheek action movie with Adkins poking fun at his persona in a cross between Last Action Hero and the recent Jumanji films. That’s definitely the idea here, but the execution leaves much to be desired. Where all of the aforementioned films work is in excluding the outside world. We assume that when the credits roll on Jack Slater IV in the real world, the world of the movie still exists, and the Jumanji films smartly excluded the idea of anyone outside the game world controlling the characters. This is one of the most fundamental ways in which Max Cloud fails to work at the most basic level. 

Having Cowboy at the controls throws all sorts of questions up as to how the mechanics of what is happening work. Sarah ends up in the body of an apparently useless character, Jake (Elliot James Langridge) a cook on Max’s ship, who we’re told nobody would choose to play as. We do see Cowboy control her avatar. A mildly amusing gag has ‘Jake’ uncontrollably walking into a wall because Cowboy has set the controller down to go to the bathroom, but there also long periods in which ‘Jake’ is either standing around talking with Max or one of the other NPCs (most often Rexy, played by co-writer Sally Collett) or just walking from place to place. By including Cowboy in the game, and sometimes showing him simply walking the characters through empty screens, we have to wonder how this game plays in the real world. Fights are so infrequent that it appears deathly dull. On screen, Max Cloud the game looks like a side scrolling beat ‘em up from an early 16-bit console, but those games were generally jam-packed with enemies, allowing you few opportunities to rest. They were also full of power-ups; health bonuses in whatever form, special moves for characters to execute and occasionally extra lives. None of these things appear to be available (but for in one sequence at the end) within the world of Max Cloud.

Only on a couple of occasions does the film find interesting ways to exploit the video game mechanics. A mid-film end of level boss battle works quite well, with Sarah figuring out the pattern of attack and exploiting it to beat the boss, just as she’d have to back home with the controller. Easily the film’s best sequence is Scott Adkins’ first fight (of far too few). It’s only in this fight that Adkins gets to have fun with the martial arts choreography. He deliberately makes his movements staccato, as if rendered in limited animation, and strikes the kinds of poses you’d expect to see from a sprite in a 90s game, but does so while also delivering a tremendously fun fight. 

On the whole, Adkins is clearly trying something here. He gives Max an over the top American accent and heroic bearing, the bearing shifts later in the film, as Sarah seems to make the game characters a little more human, and it might have been fun if he’d lost the accent too, as it feels like there’s some idea that even Max might, by the third act, have some awareness of how over the top his character is. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t dig into that idea, or any others really. Even Jumanji, in a comedic way, used the avatars to expand its human characters, Max Cloud never even appears to aspire to that and Isabelle Allen and Franz Drameh are saddled with dull characters who don’t achieve or change much during the film. Among the supporting cast, Sally Collett reserves many of her screenplay’s best lines for her own character, and the parade of underdeveloped characters continues with John Hannah’s bad guy, Revengor and Lashana Lynch, who is wasted as his sidekick Sheee.

Though the film is named for Max Cloud, Scott Adkins doesn’t have enough to do here, he’s a supporting character in his own movie and too much of what he does is off-screen, notably a couple of fights which could have been fun, but director Martin Owen leaves us stuck with ‘Jake’ and other characters while they hide and Max does the ass kicking (again, what does this suggest about the game mechanics? What is Cowboy doing at this point?) Some of this is surely down to a visibly low budget. The sets often appear cramped and the costume design, particularly that for Revengor, looks rather cheap. Disappointingly, there’s not much ingenuity on display to solve the budgetary problems, it would be easy enough to fold in gags about game design or limited graphics to paper over the cracks and provide some laughs, but this is just another way that neither the game world nor the situation that Sarah finds herself in really convince.

There is potential in The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud. The idea of Scott Adkins getting his own Last Action Hero is a fun one at heart but this, sadly, is another project that fails to use him, or the ideas surrounding him, to its best advantage. How is his comic timing? It works in that one fight scene, but otherwise, the screenplay doesn’t give him enough jokes to stretch his range much, so it’s hard to tell. Overall this is a disappointment; a couple of fun moments marooned in a film the central conceit of which is too glitchy to be functional.

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