Choosing a ‘controversial’ subject on which to base a film is not necessarily a passport to interesting cinema, and sometimes the trick can backfire with a vengeance. Such is the case with Max, which in the build-up to its UK release has been slowly creeping into the media as the film that ‘humanised’ Hitler by showing him as an angry young artist.

Max falls into the ‘what if’ narrative category, tingeing history with a good layer of fictional speculation and a not-so-beautiful sepia effect that renders the film almost monochromatic. It takes us back to 1918 Munich where hip art gallery owner Max Rothman, a wealthy Jew and ex-artist who’d lost his right arm during the war, is opening a show of expressionist paintings in a revamped warehouse turned into a modern art temple. Max lives in a fantastic show-room Bauhaus flat which makes it seem that the film’s art department was so eager to give audiences a beginner’s lesson in modernism that it verges on the comic.

That evening he meets Adolf Hitler, a down-and-out war veteran and aspiring artist. They start an unlikely and somewhat thorny friendship amid the restlessness of a humiliated post-war Germany. The future Fuhrer is played by a scrawny, dishevelled, bilious Noah Taylor (of Shine fame), who makes every effort to look despicable when in fact he simply resembles fellow Aussie Nick Cave on a bad hair day. It’s not entirely his fault, though, that we can’t take him seriously (nor the film, for that matter). A good example is a key scene when he takes the stage for first time to speak to an audience of Teutons. Hitler comes across more like a rambler on Speaker’s Corner than the man who would change the course of history.

First-time director Menno Meyjes, who won an Oscar for the script of The Color Purple, is brazen enough to end the sequence with a hats-in-the-air rally. The audience wonders how on earth the people got whipped into a frenzy by such a lukewarm speech, whose direction relied almost entirely on cutaways to the individuals in the audience.

This is just one of the many questions that leap to mind during the film, but even more important is: why on earth would the sophisticated, bohemian Max take an interest in the kitsch-loving, bitter, sexually frustraded Max? And why are Hitler and the gallery assistant the only people who speak with a German accent, while the Rothmans speak with a broad American accent? The impression you get is that the film creators don’t quite know what they’re aiming for. Even the premise of the film – what if Hitler had made it as an artist? – is a flawed one, since it sets out to show him as a talentless, derivative hack who stood no chance of professional success whatsoever.

For all those critics who’ve already started to express their disgust at ‘this shocking humanisation’ of Hitler, one word of comfort: Max is too bland to be harmful or even offensive.