That loud, dull thud you may have heard emanating from megaplexes Friday signaled the theatrical dump of “Max Steel,” a ponderous and preposterous sci-fi action-adventure that obviously was intended by folks aflame with misguided optimism as the curtain-raiser for a superhero franchise. Inspired, for want of a better term, by a Mattel action figure and its TV cartoon show spinoffs, this drearily lame time-waster plays like the origin story for a comic-book series about a teen who wields energy waves as an offensive weapon, and a techno-organic extraterrestrial that serves as his sidekick. Or something like that. Suffice it to say that if Nick Fury ever sized up these guys as potential Avengers, he wouldn’t even bother to draft them for the farm team.
Max (Ben Winchell), the wave-wielding teen, begins to grapple with his newfound powers shortly after moving back to his hometown with his widowed mom (Maria Bello), who’s adamantly evasive when it comes to explaining precisely why they left the place years ago.
At first, he can’t figure out why, every so often, invisible energy eruptions from his fingertips cause fuses to blow, smartphones to shut down, and soft-drink vending machines to belch forth their contents. A lovely classmate (Ana Villafañe) at his new school chooses to ignore Max’s nervous tics and mounting anxiety, and develops a crush on him. But that’s cold comfort for a young man badly rattled by an inexplicable condition that requires him to wear rubber gloves if he doesn’t want to short out his laptop.
Max is left in the dark — sometimes, quite literally — until he meets Steel, a flying and talking thingamabob that suggests the love child of RD-D2 and one of those killer spheres from “Phantasm.” Voiced by Josh Brenner with all the subtlety that Paul Reubens brought to “Flight of the Navigator,” Steel coaches Max, helping the perplexed teen learn how to control his superhuman abilities, and discover how he gained those abilities in the first place. The explanation has something to do with top-secret research conducted by Max’s late father, a brilliant scientist with unique notions about mixed marriage, and something else to do with Dr. Miles Edwards (Andy Garcia), his father’s former associate, who spends the first half of the movie more or less shouting, “I’m the villain of the piece! I’m the villain of the piece!” until, eventually, people start to notice.
Whenever Max and Steel merge, they form a metal-suited superhero named Max Steel. Mind you, no one ever actually refers to the product of their union by that name, but never mind: Considering that the movie is titled “Max Steel,” it’s probably safe to assume that their conjunction constitutes, well, Max Steel. On the other hand, these Iron Man-esque mergings are conspicuously infrequent throughout the movie. And the other special effects aren’t terribly special, either. Maybe someone thought this was a good bet for a franchise, but it’s clear no one was willing to wager much on that proposition.