Brace yourself… Dog + Uplifting tale of hope and friendship = Dog has to die at the end. Josh Wiggins, Lauren Graham, Luke Kleintank and Academy Award nominee Thomas Haden Church star in Max.
Cast of Characters:
Justin Wincott – Josh Wiggins
Pamela Wincott – Lauren Graham
Tyler Harne – Luke Kleintank
Kyle Wincott – Robbie Amell
Sgt. Reyes – Jay Hernandez
Chuy – Dejon LaQuake
Carmen – Mia Xitlali
Ray Wincott – Thomas Haden Church
Director – Boaz Yakin
Screenplay – Boaz Yakin & Sheldon Lettich
Producer – Karen Rosenfelt & Ken Blancato
Rated PG for action violence, peril, brief language and some thematic elements
Following the traumatic death of his Marine handler Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell), Max, a Belgian Malinois, returns home from Afghanistan and is adopted by Kyle’s parents, Ray (Thomas Haden Church) and Pamela (Lauren Graham), and brother Justin (Josh Wiggins).
Just as Justin and Max form a bond, one of Kyle’s childhood buddies and fellow Marine Tyler Harne (Luke Kleintank) returns home, much to Ray and Pamela’s delight. However, Justin and Max soon learn of Tyler’s nefarious dealings with illegal arms and the Mexican drug cartel.
In case you misread that, once again, it’s “nefarious dealings with illegal arms and the Mexican drug cartel”.
Max is one of those unfortunate films that has hearts in the right place from everyone involved, a likeable cast, a director that’s no stranger to making effectively uplifting movies (Boaz Yakin – Remember the Titans) and features a subject that deserves to be told.
The unfortunate part is just how much the film sucks.
On paper, a story of military working dogs carries great potential, especially when you consider how their involvement in the U.S. military dates all the way back to WWII. Max has the story background for what could’ve been an uplifting and inspirational movie that touches on the work these dogs do overseas, how they cope with PTSD and, after developing a bond with one handler, how difficult it can be for them to readjust to a new handler after their previous one’s killed in battle. For a moment, say about the first 10-15 minutes, it appeared the film was heading in that direction.
Then the film decided to abandon all that boring PTSD, military work crap and detour down stupidity lane.
The material’s there for a good film, but Boaz Yakin and co-writer Sheldon Lettich take what should’ve been a simple story about the bond between a dog and the brother of his fallen handler and turn it into a complicated mess about video game piracy and weapon smuggling. Why have Max focus on trivial grade school stuff like the heart and emotion provided by the film’s subject matter when you can have it devolve into a wacky, zany adventure to take down Kyle’s former brother in arms-turned-illegal arms dealer (how Tyler smuggled those weapons from Afghanistan into America is never explained, but whatever). And who better to take down the black market and the cartel than three bike-riding teenagers and their Belgian Shepherd?
I’m thinking that the people behind this flick felt since this is a movie geared toward families, God forbid they bore the hell out of the kids with all that meaningful junk about military dogs and their struggles, and that it should instead be a Goonies-style adventure.
Except instead of searching for One-Eyed Willy’s treasure… it’s about the long-term effects from fighting overseas in Afghanistan, and coping with the loss of a family member.
Well, if that ain’t a major buzzkill…
Max follows a plotline I refer to as connecting the idiot dots. What I mean by that is this film cannot continue on its course without every character trying to out-nimrod each other. A simple call to the cops solves everything. Well, it could if they didn’t go out of their way to prove they’re about fifty IQ points below Officer Barbrady. Just telling dad the truth about Tyler puts an end to the trouble, but then we don’t get the big climactic showdown (where It should be noted that for being a so-called “family” film, Yakin has no problem casually killing off his characters, albeit bloodlessly). So how do you connect the idiot dots? You make Justin a video game pirate that way Tyler has leverage against him.
Yes, leverage. Tyler, who’s knowingly selling black market weapons to the Mexican drug cartel, apparently has enough leverage to keep Justin’s mouth shut, and that leverage is that he burns copies of video games.
Okay, so basically, I get drunk, drive home anyway and kill a pedestrian on the way, but the driver behind me ain’t telling a word to the cops ’cause my bloodshot eyes were still able to notice they weren’t wearing a seat belt.
Oh, and lest we forget the Marine Sergeant who just hands out classified information – I repeat: CLASSIFIED INFORMATION – to Justin just ’cause… I don’t know ’cause Oorah! He’s a Marine, and so long as Justin keeps his lips sealed it’s totally cool.
“Hey, here’s the access codes to all the nuclear bomb sites we have around the world. I’m not supposed to give these out, but if you can keep a secret, then whatever, it’s all good.”
No surprise, Justin being an idiot shows the classified disc to his friends the very first chance he gets.
You hear that? That’s the sound of nuclear Armageddon spreading around the world and completely decimating everything in its path the moment that little tool gets his hands on the codes.
I know. You’re thinking for the love of God, is it to possible to just get one character that isn’t full retard, but when you discover that Lettich’s screenwriting resume consists of a number of Jean-Claude Van Damme flicks, everything you just read will start making much more sense.
Could I maybe forgive the film’s problems and just enjoy the hijinks-filled ride despite the totally downer story based on the equally wacky and zany adventures of a family coping with the tragic loss of a son and brother who died in battle? Well… no. Even with the story aside, we’re still left with a talented but wasted cast (Lauren Graham, Thomas Haden Church and Josh Wiggins who was so good opposite Aaron Paul in last year’s Hellion), who all look bored out of their minds – though debut co-star Mia Xitlali brings some desperately needed life to the mix – as they sputter out hokey messages about sacrifice and the true meaning of being a hero.
Give it up for the dog, though. He’s far and away the best performance in the movie, and it’s nothing short of amazing how he went so long into the film without putting himself down by either falling on a shot of sodium phenobarbytol or just running out in front of a car.
Max comes with all the best intentions in the world, but best intentions don’t excuse a bad movie from being a bad movie, and this is certainly a bad movie. Obviously, the story of real life military working dogs is one that shouldn’t be ignored, and in the hands of better filmmakers, a compelling film about their sacrifice could and should be made. Max, however, is no such compelling film and is instead an uneven, dopey and manipulative hybrid of The Deer Hunter combined with Beethoven and Scooby-Doo.
Actually, that combination might make a better movie.
I give Max a D (★).