Max – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: Boaz Yakin
Writers: Boaz Yakin, Sheldon Lettich
Stars: Thomas Haden Church, Josh Wiggins, Luke Kleintank
The story of a military dog with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) sounds like it could have all the ingredients for an ‘All-American’ summer family blockbuster.
Max, the hero of the film, is a former sniffer dog. Following a Taliban ambush in which his handler Kyle Wincott is killed, he becomes difficult to control, and is adopted by Kyle’s family to save him from being euthanized. It swiftly becomes clear that Max feels a bond with Kyle’s younger brother Justin (Josh Wiggins), an awkward teenager more interested in bootlegging video games (which he sells for a hefty profit) and riding his BMX, than spending time with his grieving family. Over time, Justin and Max learn to understand each other, and with the help of best friend Chuy (Dejon LaQuake) and his spunky cousin Carmen (Mia Xilali) Max returns to his former self in record time.
What could have been a simple tale of grief, and readjusting to civilian life, becomes far more dramatic with the entrance of Kyle’s former best friend Tyler, who returns home from Afghanistan under suspicious circumstances, and ingratiates himself with the Wincott family, particularly former marine father Ray (Thomas Haden Church).
From a brief inference of weapons theft at the beginning of the film, Tyler swiftly develops into an all-out baddie; involved in smuggling large amounts of weapons with Mexican gangsters, kidnap, and of course turning the Wincott family against their beloved dog, and troubled younger son.
Though Max is a fast paced and entertaining film, it often borders on the ridiculous. The many attempts to tug on the heart strings are treated too heavy handedly to be truly moving; with quotes about how ‘a real hero always tells the truth’, and a constantly surging orchestral score, taking away from the actual subject matter. Also, the classic ‘teen hero and dog save the day’ storyline is less successful in the digital age, causing some major plot holes. It is unclear why the characters don’t use their mobile phones for help, though they all seem to have them; and it is hard to believe that even a dog like Max could track the scent of someone who gets into a high powered truck and drives for miles.
It is difficult to understand who Max is targeted at: The characters (and PG rating) suggest a younger audience, but the film’s levels of violence and grief seem more suitable for a slightly older age-range. Overall, Max is unlikely to be a classic, but there’s enough action to keep the audience engaged; even if some of the humour in the film was certainly not intentional.