Director: Boaz Yakin
Cast: Josh Wiggins, Thomas Haden Church, Lauren Graham, Robbie Amell, Jay Hernandez, Ian Gregg, Joseph Julian Soria, Owen Harn, Miles Mussenden, Dejon LaQuake
Runtime: 1 hr 51 mins
Rating: PG (Some Violence)
Released By: Warner Bros
Official Website: http://max-themovie.com
Opening Day: 16 July 2015
Synopsis: From Warner Bros. Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures comes "Max," a family action adventure from writer/director Boaz Yakin ("Remember the Titans," "Now You See Me").
A precision-trained military dog, Max serves on the frontlines in Afghanistan alongside his handler, U.S. Marine Kyle Wincott. But when things go terribly wrong on maneuvers, Kyle is mortally wounded and Max, traumatized by the loss of his best friend, is unable to remain in service. Shipped stateside, the only human he seems willing to connect with is Kyle's teenage brother, Justin, so Max is adopted by Kyle's family, essentially saving his life. But Justin has issues of his own, such as living up to his father's expectations for him; he isn't interested in taking responsibility for his brother's troubled dog. However, Max may be Justin's only chance to discover what really happened to his brother that day on the front, and with the help of a tough-talking young teen, Carmen, who has a way with dogs, Justin begins to appreciate his canine companion. Justin's growing trust in Max helps the four-legged veteran revert back to his heroic self, and as the pair race against time to unravel the mystery, they find more excitement-and danger-than they bargained for. But they each might also find an unlikely new best friend...in each other.
If it already isn’t apparent, ‘Max’ is that sort of feel-good family-friendly film built upon man’s relationship with his loyal best friend. In this case, the titular canine happens to be a gorgeous, intelligent Belgian Malinois, one of 3,000-plus dogs that served in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are told at the start. After his handler, a marine named Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell), is killed in a firefight, the traumatized dog is sent back to the States and a pivotal scene where Max is brought to Kyle’s funeral and lies at the foot of the latter’s coffin expresses the dog’s anguish more poignantly than any words can say.
But this is as much Max’s redemptive story as it is Kyle’s brother’s, Justin (Josh Wiggins), whose family adopts the dog after seeing how Justin seems to be the only one who is able to connect with him. “The family takes care of its own,” declares Mom (Lauren Graham), who also hopes that the dog can help Justin to be a more responsible kid. Yes, immersed in his world of video games and extreme bike riding, Justin himself is on the rails, which especially irks his no-nonsense ex-Marine father (Thomas Haden Church) with whom he is pretty much engaged in a cold war with.
Also as a result, Max spends much of his time outside the home hanging out with his best friend Chuy (Dejon LaQuake) and his cousin Carmen (Mia Xitlali). The latter happens not only to be a brash tough-talking tomboy but also possesses some experience with dogs – and over the course of learning how to handle Max, a budding romance develops between them. It isn’t all peaches and roses however – the return of Kyle’s friend and fellow Marine Tyler (Luke Kleintank) from active duty brings a more sinister side to the story, which includes some illegal arms dealing involving Chuy’s thuggish cousin Emilio (Joseph Julian Soria), a corrupt sheriff’s deputy (Owen Harn) and a Mexican cartel-connected gangster.
It’s a somewhat overwrought plot all right, but that should probably not come as a surprise given the oeuvre of its director Boaz Yakin and his co-scripter Sheldon Lettich. Wearing the heart of the movie on its sleeve, Yakin makes no apologies for the heartstring-tugging premise or the many scenes specifically designed – with a patriotic score by Trevor Rabin no less – to celebrate the sacrifices of military dogs. Aside from the occasional hints about the post-traumatic after-effects of war, this is through and through as much a celebration of love for country as ‘American Sniper’, especially with the running themes of honour and integrity that are supposed to be sacrosanct for any self-respecting Marine.
Yet, even though it unabashedly pushes its emotional buttons, ‘Max’ turns out surprisingly tolerable because it doesn’t pretend to be more. Yes, there is an earnestness to both its purpose and storytelling that you’ll find hard to begrudge, in particular because Yakin smoothes over the rough edges of the narrative with polish and naked sentimentality. Yakin also has his cast to thank for that. Wiggins gives a restrained performance that balances snark with sensitivity, while Haden Church and Graham bring a warm groundedness to their roles as parents even when they are called to turn on the waterworks.
Equally impressive as the human stars are the canine actors who play Max at different points, and kudos to animal coordinator Mark Forbes for an impressive job wringing in the dog-on-dog combat sequences from his six Belgian Malinois and five Rottweilers. Whether as a coming-of-age story, and as an inspirational tale of a boy and his dog, and as a tribute to the unsung war heroes that venture courageously into enemy territory, ‘Max’ proves to be a perfectly palatable combination of all these elements. It is patriotic no doubt, sentimental yes, wholesome definitely, but that is also part of its uncomplicated charm, and we suspect why families looking for some schmaltzy fare will find that it hits just that right spot.
(Unabashedly cloying and sentimental, this coming-of-age story is nevertheless surprisingly effective as wholesome family-friendly fare)
Review by Gabriel Chong