Director – Jay Martin, Screenplay – Angelique Hanus & Jesse Spears, Based on the Novel The Angel Experiment by James Patterson, Producers – Gary Binkow & Amee Dolleman, Photography – Ed Wu, Music – Bowie Dinkel & Kelvin Pimont, Visual Effects Supervisors – Eric Geisler & Patrick Murphy, Special Effects Supervisor – David Waine, Production Design – Anthony Stabley. Production Company – Studio71/J.P. Entertainment.
Allie Marie Evans (Max), Patrick Johnson (Fang), Tetona Jackson (Nudge), Gavin Lewis (Gazzy), Luke Gregory Crosby (Ari Batchelder), Peter O’Brien (Dr Jeb Batchelder), Lyliana Wray (Angel), Zayne Emory (Iggy), Carrie Wampler (Ella), Karla Zamudio (Dr Valencia Martinez), Lillie Owens (Young Max), Zander Faden (Young Ari)
Six children, ranging from mid-teens to younger, have been rescued by Dr Jeb Batchelder from the secret laboratory known as The School located in Death Valley where they have been used in a series of genetic experiments. After being bidden to stay at a house in a remote location. some of them want to leave and mingle with normal society but are forbidden by the group’s leader Max. One of the children Angel is then snatched by Jeb’s son Ari, who leads The Erasers, wolf-hybrids that act as enforcers for The School. Using their wings, Max and Fang fly off to rescue Angel. The others are forced to flee from the house when The Erasers return to capture Max.
James Patterson is best known as a writer of crime thrillers, in particular his series of Alex Cross books about an African-American detective, which number twenty-three at current count, along with several film adaptations of these – Kiss the Girls (1997), Along Came a Spider (2001) and Alex Cross (2012). The only other genre works that James Patterson has been associated with on screen is as creator/producer of the Animals Attack tv series Zoo (2015-7).
In between his crime fiction, James Patterson is also a prolific children’s author, having several entire series to his name. The film here is an adaptation of the Maximum Ride series, which concerns a group of children known as The Flock who have been born with wings and other powers as a result of genetic tinkering. The series began with The Angel Experiment (2005), which forms the basis of the film, and continued through a further eight books that follows The Flock from their escape from the laboratory to a search for their origins to being employed by the government as superheroes to their surviving the end of civilisation.
This Maximum Ride film was a clear attempt to jump aboard the fad for Young Adult adapted works that were made through the late 2000s and especially into the early 2010s following the success of the Harry Potter series, the Twilight films and The Hunger Games series. The downside of this is that beyond these successes is a whole line of tentative YA film series that never ended up going beyond a single film – see the likes of I Am Number Four (2011), Beautiful Creatures (2013), The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013), The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box (2014), The Giver (2014), Vampire Academy (2014), Fallen (2016), The 5th Wave (2016) and Mortal Engines (2018).
It is fairly clear why Maximum Ride did not go anywhere as a film – for the simple reason that it did not have the A-budget lavished on it that most of the abovementioned other Young Adult adaptations have. Equally, it could just be that audiences mistook the title for an action film – I kept mentally confusing it with the Jean-Claude Van Damme film Maximum Risk (1996). It features a cast out of which I have not heard of even a single actor before. Moreover, the entire film is shot in a way that makes it look like a grainy tv show from the 1990s. The special effects are not exactly adequate – they frequently look as though the actors are just flying against a green screen.
On screen, the book has been so stripped to a minimum that the film fails to work as a story without the books to refer to. Indeed, you wonder what the filmmakers imagined would have been left to sell the film, beyond the James Patterson name or the pitch of “another adaptation of a Young Adult book series.” The film opens in the middle of a breakout from a facility – we never learn what the experiments being conducted on the children are. Are they mutants a la the X-Men? The results of genetic tinkering? It could be anybody’s guess (at least going by the information the film gives us and without referring back to the books). Details like the fact that the Erasers are human-wolf hybrids have been omitted just leaving the Flock being pursued by strange creatures with facial hair and fangs. Even the distinctive characterisation of the kids in the book has been all but pushed to the background with the exception of Allie Marie Evans’ Max.
The whole film feels shabbily made. It is less the A-budget treatment that you would expect to be lavished on one of James Patterson’s books than it is the treatment of product regarded as cable filler – indifferently slung together with a minimal professionalism but no care in the production and a lack of experience to most of the performances. The director seems particularly ill adept when it comes to choreographing the fight scenes, which look amateurish. (Not too surprising as Jay Martin’s previous experience was all in directing teen pop music videos).