The dog Max is truly the main star in this film meant to honor the more than 3,000 dogs that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. They are amazing in their ability to search for and detect weapons and explosives. Incidentally, about as many handlers as dogs (just under 30) have been killed during service in this time period. The filmmakers used five different dogs for the movie, according to animal coordinator Mark Forbes, but one named Carlos stood out in his personality, charisma, and acting abilities, so he was used most of the time.
The story involves Max and his handler Kyle (Amell) searching for weapons and explosives in Afghanistan, when a bomb explodes killing Kyle, and although Max survived, he was left with PTSD. Kyle’s family is devastated, and when the opportunity arises for them to bring Max into to their home, they do. Max is very skittish and obviously disturbed, but he recognizes familiarity in Justin (Wiggins), Kyle’s younger brother. One of Justin’s friends knows quite a bit about dogs, so she gives Justin pointers, and soon Max is literally eating out of Justin’s hand. His mother recognizes that this will be good for Justin, a sometimes sullen and self-preoccupied teen who plays videogames every chance he gets, and has a little business going on the side illegally downloading and selling them.
But Max will have to prove himself, especially to Justin’s cantankerous father Ray (Church). Soon, the whole situation becomes much more complicated when Kyle’s friend from childhood and buddy in the war, Tyler (Kleintank) comes back to his hometown and asks to work for Ray. At that point, the story becomes more of a thriller with guns and criminals involved.
Max the film, written (with Sheldon Lettich) and directed by Boaz Yakin ends up being rather macho, with the males—most of whom are rather obnoxious—jockeying for dominance and thinking nothing about drawing their guns at the slightest provocation. Even the teenage girl who is good with dogs is quick with the retorts and shoving her cousin down, much like many boys that age do. Although I prefer this to a pink and lace effect, I would rather her other skills—knowledge, logic, empathy—had been more prominent in the film and the insults dispensed with. None of the characters are very appealing, at least in the beginning. The Justin character is the most sympathetic—although he is entirely obnoxious in the beginning—and the film is good at showing the dawning of what is really going on occurs to him. Perhaps the point is to show that he is capable of learning and changing as a result of his experience.
This film is good at whipping up passions—for the dog, for justice to be served and the truth to come out—(also, the harrowing bike rides at break-neck speeds through the forest are especially thrilling)—but there are missed opportunities, for instance, to address Justin’s illegal game activity, and the film becomes completely implausible in the last scenes.
The dog Max’s acting chops and heroics are the best parts of Max.
Grade: C By Donna R. Copeland