Max is the tale of a dog who suffers PTSD following the death of his human partner in Afghanistan. When he is unable to work with anyone else, he is scheduled to be put down – until he shows an unexpected connection to his late partner’s little brother.
This boy and his dog flick suffers from general ham-fistedness, though the dogs who play Max are astonishing (eat your heart out, Rin Tin Tin!).
Max opens in Afghanistan, with Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell, The Flash) and Max on patrol. Despite Max’s obvious unwillingness to proceed, Kyle’s buddy, Tyler (Luke Kleintank) urges him on and Kyle is killed in the ensuing ambush.
Back home in the good old U.S. of A., Kyle’s younger brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins), plays videogames and pulls off cool stunts on his bike at a nearby bike park with his friend Chuy (Dejon LaQuake). He gets along okay with his mom, Pamela (Lauren Graham), but just doesn’t connect with his ex-Marine dad, Ray (Thomas Haden Church), an Iraq vet.
In the film’s most touching scene, Max attends Kyle’s funeral and makes it clear he misses his buddy, while not being particularly cooperative with the Marines accompanying him. He does, however, seem to connect with Justin – which leads to the family adopting him to save him from that other option.
Unfortunately, despite Justin and Max becoming close – thanks in part to Chuy’s tomboy cousin Carmen (Mia Xitlai) – Ray becomes convinces that Max got Kyle killed. Guess who influences that belief.
Turns out Tyler has a side business that was likely the reason he was discharged from the Marines (he maintains it was for medical reasons, but we know better – and his side business was hinted at in the Afghanistan scenes). The side business – the illegal sales of weapons – involves both members of the local constabulary and a shady cousin of Chuy’s
The biggest problem with Max is that the movie is a very cut and dried, black and white, good guys vs. bad guys movie with absolutely no nuance at all – except for those provided by Max and Justin. Everyone else is pretty one-dimensional – and the script leans a bit too hard on the idea of patriotism at the beginning, completely overshadowing the relationship between Kyle and Max.
Director/co-writer Boaz Yakin moves things along at a brisk enough pace that most of the script’s flatness doesn’t really matter thanks to the presence of Max. Five dogs were used to play Max and they are all gorgeous Belgian Malinois who really command the screen.
The only real violence in the film – not covered by smoke, or occurring just offscreen – is a bit of a fight between Max and the bad guys’ two Rottweilers (of course! The bad guys have Rottweilers!) and a brief second in which Max leaps to Justin’s rescue.
Max, the film, generally looks good – it’s well shot and lit, but maybe it’s because it comes on the heels of Inside Out and Jurassic World, but it’s just so thin story-wise that it leaves me a bit unimpressed.
Since both Jurassic World and Inside Out are still doing big box office, Max will probably get a lot of spillover. It will likely do as a third choice, but it could have been so much better.
Final Grade: C