5 out of 10
Josh Wiggins as Justin Wincott
Directed by Boaz Yakin
Max is a military canine used in Afghanistan to track and search for weapons, but when his handler Kyle (Robbie Amell) is killed, the distraught dog is sent back Stateside to live with his teenage brother Justin (Josh Wiggins) and his family. When one of Kyle’s military colleagues named Tyler (Luke Kleintank) shows up and starts causing trouble, Justin and his friends Carmen and Chuy must stop him with the help of Max.
Earlier this year, the Hungarian film White God showed what could be done with trained dogs in cinema, and it was an amazing achievement that ran the festival gauntlet to great acclaim. After I first saw it, I immediately thought there was no way they could do that movie in America, and I probably was right because it likely would have ended up something like Max in this movie review.
Max certainly has its share of American precursors, most notably the beloved canine star Lassie, although it plays with the formula by adding Max’s military background and how that makes him such a useful asset as a tracker and in protecting his human handlers.
After a couple of innocuous scenes showing Max in the field with his handler Kyle Wincott in Afghanistan, we meet Kyle’s family, his brother Justin (Josh Wiggins from Hellion) being more interested in video games than taking care of a dog. Justin’s father Ray (Thomas Haden Church) is concerned that Max is out of control, so he sets up a cage in the yard for the dog, his fears confirmed when Kyle’s teammate Tyler returns home and tells Ray that Max was responsible for his son’s death. We already know that Tyler is not someone who the other soldiers could trust, but he’s also involved with a criminal named Emilio who he is helping to smuggle arms to Mexican druglords.
Josh Wiggins isn’t so bad as the lead kid, but the rest of the performances fall flat, and it’s kind of a shame when a dog is the best actor of the bunch with a far more expressive performance than any of the humans. Dejon LaQuake’s Chuy basically just cracks one corny joke after another trying to get laughs, while Mia Xitlali’s Carmen, Justin’s ersatz love interest, is just one bad Mexican stereotype. Robie Amell appears in the first few minutes of the movie and then disappears, only to reappear in a canine training video showing him first working with Max. It really isn’t much of a role for an actor who has been making a name for himself on the CW’s “The Flash.” Church and Graham have also done much better work than they do here, and this seems like little more than a paycheck.
Director Boaz Yakin does everything he can to try to pull any sort of emotions out of his cast especially when it comes to Kyle’s death, but when all else fails, he resorts to some of the most manipulative music possible. Fact is that he’s not a very good director and it shows with the generally lackluster look of the film.
The last act turns into a full-on action adventure as the three friends try to save Justin’s father from the bad guys, getting into all sorts of danger that Max invariably gets them out of with a number of last-minute saves.
While Max isn’t terrible and some people may actually enjoy it, its quality is TV movie-level at best, and it gives very few reasons why anyone should pay movie theater ticket prices to see it.
The Bottom Line:
Bland, sappy and not particularly groundbreaking, Max may still appeal to dog enthusiasts even if it never really delivers on its premise.