Not just a canine caper
– Live action family dramas are not as common as the once were before CGI, but parents will still welcome them, especially those of high quality, and making a huggable canine the central character is almost a guaranteed formula for success — a least commercially. (Dolphins, killer whales and horses do pretty well but dogs still reign supreme filling 5 of the top 10 spots in the live action, non-talking animal film category box office since 1979). But it is clear from the outset that “MAX” isn’t trying to base its success on the cuddle factor alone – in fact, the film may be too edgy for some families as it puts both animals and humans in life threatening situations, giving the story potential for a deeper well of life lessons – some heartache to go with its heartstrings.
That makes “MAX” even with its uneven story lines, occasionally marginal acting and penchant for exaggeration a worthwhile film – interesting as well as entertaining.
“MAX” might be the only PG rated family film that opens in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan where in a Taliban ambush U.S. Marine Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell) is killed, leaving his trustworthy war dog, Max, a beautiful, highly intelligent Belgium Malois (think a slighter, faster German shepherd) to fend for himself. A PSTD syndrome for dogs? Who knew?
“MAX” is filled with fascinating revelations like these and while the film is certainly geared towards dog lovers it contains a lot of serious themes–perhaps too many to fully develop – as Max must come home and learn to integrate within the Wincott family which has plenty of problems on its own–besides dealing with the loss of their son.
Younger brother Justin (Josh Wiggins) lives in the shadow of his heroic older brother, is not on great terms with his Desert Storm surviving father (a glum but solid Thomas Hayden Church) or his Mom (a spotty performance by Lauren Graham) and is running a gaming piracy business on the side. While Justin learns to bond with the irascible Max, trouble escalates when Kyle’s childhood friend Tyler (Luke Kleintank) comes back into town, and the ugly mysteries of the war’s tragic events begin to unfold.
Justin is aided by friends Chuy (Dejon LaQuake) and cute cousin Carmen (Mia Xiali) and while their teenage conversation feels a little clunky at times, at its core, “MAX” is a film about friendship and is at its best when the action requires the trio to help each other.
“MAX” is a busy film crowded with serious subject material that rarely goes for cheap nods at sentimentality while still being a patriotic movie that has plenty of heartfelt moments. That makes “Max” the movie, not unlike the incredible military dogs themselves, a breed apart.
Rated PG (for action violence, peril, brief language and some thematic elements).