** (out of 5)
June 26, 2015
Thomas Haden Church as RAY WINCOTT
Josh Wiggins as JUSTIN WINCOTT
Luke Kleintank as TYLER HARNE
Lauren Graham as PAMELA WINCOTT
Robbie Amell as KYLE WINCOTT
Mia Xitlali as CARMEN
Dejon LaQuake as CHUY
Jay Hernandez as SERGEANT REYES
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Boaz Yakin
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
The movie “Max” flew under my radar for some time before its release. In fact, I first really became aware of it when I saw its poster, which features the title character in a flak jacket amid war-time rubble. With its bold type treatment, I was actually kind of hoping I’d get a version of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” only shot with puppies as all the characters.
(Note to Hollywood: I would pay good money to see “Mad Max: Puppy Road,” and I am certain that a lot of other people would too.)
Of course, this was not what the film was, but on a more realistic front, I was hoping to see a film about a service dog in the military. After all, the American military has been using service dogs for search and rescue for a century now, dating back to World War I. It’s a fascinating part of our military that hasn’t gotten much play in popular culture.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get this, either. Well, I did… but just for about five minutes. The story is about Max, a Belgian Malinois whose handler is killed in action. This incident leaves Max with PTSD (which can happen to dogs as well as humans, considering they are emotionally-driven creatures), and he is unable to serve any longer. Rather than putting him down, the dog is adopted by his handler’s family back in Texas. The resulting story follows the younger brother Justin (Josh Wiggins), who bonds with the dog.
Just because the movie is named after the dog doesn’t mean he’s the real focus of the movie. I suppose calling it “Justin” with a picture of the surly teenager in front of his computer isn’t as powerful of an image of Max in a flak jacket in Afghanistan. I suppose Warner Bros. knows what it’s doing from a marketing perspective.
Still, who cares about the stupid people? I wanted to see more about the dog!
Once you get past the early military service of Max, the film becomes a story about a boy and his dog, which is about as cliche and tired of a concept as you can have. I wanted the canine version of “The Hurt Locker,” and instead I got “Air Bud” without the basketball. Sure, it works for a family movie, but there’s nothing remarkable about it at all from this perspective.
Once the film committed to this, it falls into a stale TV movie framework, featuring dialogue, set design, casting and writing at the level of a Hallmark movie rather than a major studio’s motion picture. There’s some incredibly corny lines and more cliches than you can count. To make things worse, Justin’s best friend is a Mexican boy in town who has to remind you in every scene that he’s Mexican. This ends up making the movie painfully racist at times, featuring Mexican arms dealers and thugs, as well as every piece of food consumed or mentioned by these characters coming from the menu of a Mexican restaurant.
The most unique element of this movie is Max himself, but he is sidelined into a supporting role by the human characters. Yeah, the movie pushes the right buttons and works for a basic family movie, but it’s nothing special. “Max” squanders a real opportunity to do something unique and ends up being just another story you’d see on basic cable.