A few minutes into the film Max Cloud, a handsome-ish not-quite-leading-man wearing a garishly patriotic jumpsuit walks into the bridge of an almost certainly cardboard spaceship and says, “Max Cloud doesn’t have time for death.” That pretty much says everything you need to know about this high-concept, low-budget film that is part sendup of 90s video game culture, and part tribute to sci-fi body swap comedies. The self-consciously amateurish production is a bit of a mixed bag. With its intentionally over-the-top acting, sub-Tron special effects, and overall Flash Gordon vibe, the film oozes with cheese that can be a lot of fun, but can also be a bit too campy for its own good.
Set firmly in 1990, complete with the landline phones and wired game controllers that were hallmarks of the era, the film revolves around Sarah (Isabelle Allen), a teen gamer obsessed with playing an action-adventure console game called “Max Cloud.” Her father Tony (Sam Hazeldine) scolds her for wasting her life on these kinds of games, leading Sarah to wish she could do nothing but play all day. Her wish is promptly granted by the game’s Space Witch (Jason Maza), who proceeds to Jumani (or, more accurately, Jumanji 2) Sarah by sucking her into the system and making her part of the game. Sarah takes over the body of Jake (Elliot James Langridge), the Space Chef and hapless sidekick to intergalactic adventurer, Max Cloud (Scott Adkins), the pompous, third-person abusing Space Guy who bears as much resemblance to Zapp Brannigan from Futurama as any real video game character. Unfortunately for Sarah/Jake, they aren’t able to do much without someone at the controls. Enter Sarah’s best friend, Cowboy (Franz Drameh), who happens along at just the right moment to grab the joystick and lead our heroes into battle.
Joined by Space Bounty Hunter Brock Donnelly (Tommy Flannagan) and Token Underdeveloped Female Character Rexy (Sally Collett), the team sets out on a quest that runs the gamut of video game tropes. There’s the basic yet overly effective kung fu moves used against out of shape Space Ninjas, the Batman Begins growling villain Revengor (John Hannah) who is so evil he has to live in a literal mountain of lava, and a whole host of other minions and boss fights that must be conquered on the way. When Cowboy doesn’t leave Sarah/Jake running endlessly into walls so he can use the bathroom, of course.
While the concept is fun if predictable, and the nostalgic cheesiness delivers a lot of fun for junkies of the “so bad it’s good” genre, it’s not quite enough to sustain an entire movie. The beginning is quite strong, and the end is an appropriately predictable payoff, but the middle devolves into a repetitive mishmash of meaningless video game plot points and bad action, which starts to lose its appeal and run together after a while. While there are plenty of ridiculously dumb one liners scattered throughout, like “I’ve seen Fred Savage’s munificent Vice Versa, so I know these things are possible,” or, “Space Heroes don’t have time for baking,” these fun little asides aren’t quite enough to keep the story from feeling like an improv sketch that ran on a little too long.
Verdict: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Max Cloud is a very, very bad movie. But enough of the badness seems intentional enough to also make for a very, very fun one. At least, in parts. The film opens strong with a fun collage of self-referential humor and nods to classic 8-bit entertainment, and builds to a deliciously idiotic climax that involves dad whipping out his Golden Joystick to save his enslaved daughter – a plot twist that is nowhere near as inappropriate as it sounds. However, the lackluster middle keeps this film from rising to the level of a true cult classic. If you’re into old video games and laughing at bad video games, this one is well worth a watch. But if you have to step out in the middle to walk the dog, there’s no need to hit pause, you won’t be missing much.