Max Winslow and the House of Secrets

Review by Rich Cline | 2/5

Max Winslow and the House of Secrets
dir Sean Olson
scr Jeff Wild
prd Johnny Remo
with Sydne Mikelle, Tanner Buchanan, Jason Genao, Emery Kelly, Jade Chynoweth, Chad Michael Murray, Marina Sirtis, Tyler Christopher, Anton Starkman, Juli Tapken, Candice Michele Barley, Chuck Mere
release UK 23.Oct.20
20/US 1h38

murray sirtis

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geneo, mikelle, kelly, chynoweth and buchanan
A cheerful teen attitude infuses this sci-fi adventure with enough interest to keep us watching, even if it's never remotely challenging. The film is packed with gratuitous gadgets that will keep kids interested, even if the characters feel like the usual cross-section of teen types. After a good-natured opening, the film takes a turn toward horror that's customised for each character. It's not particularly clever, but it's watchably engaging.
A teen whose only interest is computer code, Max (Mikelle) is one of five students invited to a competition to win the super high-tech mansion of reclusive billionaire robotics whiz Atticus (Murray). Her fellow contenders are shy gamer Benny (Geneo), snooty influencer Sophia (Chynoweth), arrogant tough guy Aiden (Kelly) and cool kid Connor (Buchanan), whose parents are pushing him to pursue a lacrosse scholarship, although he'd rather be a musician. He's also Max's secret crush. Once the game begins, they're sent on their own individual journeys, which get increasingly dangerous.
These five kids clash and connect pretty much as expected, with enjoyably barbed interaction and relatively good-natured competition. They're guided by the house's computer brain Haven (voiced by Sirtis), revealing clues everywhere, with puzzles to solve for points. Haven also imposes Willy Wonka-style lessons about vanity, selfishness, truthfulness and so on. Clearly Atticus and Haven are up to something nefarious here, and at least it's impossible to predict what wild fantasy will come along next.

Of the central five, Max and Connor are the most rounded characters, which isn't saying much. But Mikelle and Buchanan are easy to root for, the nicest and most thoughtful of the teens, each of whom is dealing with internal issues. Everyone is well-played, including adults in side strands that are surprisingly bleak since parents are often the cause of their issues. Murray is fine in an extended cameo, and Sirtis has the liveliest personality as artificial intelligence with a mind of its own.

Each young person takes his or her own cautionary odyssey that taps into a major adolescent theme. All of them are meaningful, but they play out in ways that are flatly simplistic. At least there are plenty of eye-catching things to look at as script preaches the usual sentimental messages about independence, self-image, balance, forgiveness and honesty. A bit more subtlety, subtext and a more rounded look at the teens themselves might have give the entire story some edge. Because as is, it feels like a great looking but rather corny after-school special.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 19.Oct.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall