Starring Allie Marie Evans, Patrick Johnson, Peter O’Brien, Luke Gregory Crosby
Directed by Jay Martin
The film adaptation of the James Patterson book series Maximum Ride was first announced as a major motion picture all the way back in 2009 during the Twilight boom that saw movie studios snatching up every semi-popular Young Adult genre book series that could potentially become the next tween box office cash cow. At the time Columbia Pictures had optioned the rights and Catherine Hardwicke (director of the first Twilight feature) was being courted to give these teenage bird people flight.
We hadn’t heard a peep about a Maximum Ride movie for over six years until I saw it listed the other day as one of the week’s new VOD movie releases. One look at the trailer told me this was not a major studio movie; yet, my “Foydar” tingled, and I decided to give it a look. Much like the canary in the coal mine, I’m now here to warn you that if you spend your hard-earned money watching these cinematic bird droppings, you’ll be the one taken for a ride. As someone who has a passing knowledge of the book series but has never actually read them, I still have no problem calling Maximum Ride one of the worst movies I’ve seen all year.
For a movie entitled Maximum Ride, a title that promises as much action and excitement as one can handle, action proves scarce to the point that even when something physical happens, it’s over in a flash and achieved with non-existent excitement. Fight scenes last micro seconds. Flying scenes are only slightly more thrilling than that of “The Flying Nun.” (Obscure reference alert!) Instead of soaring, the half-bird teen angel movie is a lead balloon that creeps along lifelessly at a snail’s pace until it reaches a cliffhanger that laughably assumes there will be sequels. Sorry, this bird don’t fly…
This is a movie about a half-dozen genetically engineered teenage bird people that sprout wings from their backs the way Wolverine sprouts claws; however, they spend more time moving about on two legs. I’m fairly positive I only ever saw two of the teens sprout wings, hardly, and fly, barely. When they do take to the sky, which, again, is almost never, the movie just recycles the same f/x flying shots, right down to using the exact same scenery they keep flying over and over. Not one scene of the six members of “The Flock,” as they’re called, flying in unison — not one! And when they do get airborne, the digital work is only slightly more impressive than the special effects from a 15-year-old rerun of “Charmed.” Without a proper budget Maximum Ride’s wings were clipped before it ever even got a chance to take flight. Should have stayed grounded; if your movie is about winged teenagers that fly around and you don’t have the means to show them with wings or flying around, perhaps maybe you should reconsider bothering to make the movie at all.
But if you like watching winged teenager characters minus their wings standing around, sitting around, or walking around drearily discussing the plot and their back-story or having flashbacks to their youth where even their younger selves mostly sit around detailing plot mechanics, then you’re going to love Maximum Ride.
I felt bad for the actors because a large part of why they come across as so wooden is due to the leaden dialogue they constantly spew that rarely ever bothers to give any of them so much as a drop of personality. Allie Marie Evans, looking like Bebe Rexha lost on her way to a punk rock concert, might have been able to make something out of her role as titular heroine Max if there was anything there for her to make. She’s the only one given a modicum of personality, but just a smidge of attitude and longing.
Maximum Ride doesn’t even get the teen romance element you expect from this genre correct. There’s a guy who I think is supposed to be her potential romantic interest, but their relationship is so platonic he might as well be her brother.
The rest of “The Flock” barely get any screen time to establish themselves as anything of consequence aside from being ciphers to state more facts than Joe Friday. This movie could be taught in screenwriting classes as a prime example of that quintessential no-no: “Tell, not show.”
As much as they keep reciting story elements telling us what’s going on rather than actually engaging in a story, things are sometimes left so vague you have to guess for yourself. Or they just assume you’ve read the books and know what the heck they’re talking about. The villain, Ari, a teen wolf hybrid who looks like the werewolf lead singer of a Skid Row tribute band and hilariously growls his every line, is constantly referred to as an “eraser.” What’s an eraser? I still don’t know for sure because I don’t recall the movie ever once actually bothering to spell it out.
Six genetically engineered human-bird hybrids have escaped from a research lab called “The School” located in Death Valley with the help of their scientist father figure Jeb. Now they live on their own in a secluded safe house in the Rocky Mountains called “The Nest.” Jeb is gone, leaving eldest Max in charge, much to the chagrin of some of the others that sometimes resent her “grrl power” mother hen attitude. Everyone mopes to varying degrees, whether it be longing to leave the Nest and be a normal person or hoping for the return of Jeb. Well, the youngest kid with a thing for building bombs seems kind of upbeat — might want to keep a close eye on him in the future.
The members of “The Flock” don’t know exactly what they are or why they were created. They might actually discover the truth when hench-wolfmen “erasers” from “The School” arrive to abduct the youngest bird girl Angel for reasons the heroes will have to go find out for themselves. And that’s pretty much all this 82-minutes-but-feels-much-longer slog into Young Adult movie hell has to offer.
I would say the entire production reeks of a glorified fan film except I’m fairly certain a fan of the source material would have done it more justice.
Speaking of which, my niece has read all the Maximum Ride books, and as mere coincidence she was over shortly after I finished watching the film version. I wanted to get her take as a fan so I fired up the movie once more and skipped around, showing her bits and pieces of various scenes and characters to gauge her response. I believe this pretty much encapsulates her reaction to what I was showing her: