Max Movie ReviewWarner Bros. Pictures
Rated PG for action violence, peril, brief language and some thematic elements.
Running time: 111 minutes.
One and a half stars out of four.

“Max” is a strange beast.

It is, in theory, a family-friendly movie about courage and friendship, with a brave and handsome military search dog at its center. Who doesn’t like dogs? What could possibly go wrong?

In reality, though, “Max” is an absurdly violent PG-rated movie in which kids and dogs are repeatedly in peril — and often the potential targets for gunfire. There’s also death in the line of duty, a family’s mourning, a weapons-smuggling ring involving bad guys from both sides of the Mexican border, a kidnapping, a near drowning and some massive explosions. At one point, my 5 1/2-year-old son, Nicolas — who loves dogs and goes out of his way to say hi to every single one he sees in our neighborhood — turned to me during the screening and said: “This movie is too violent.”

He was right — and in retrospect, Nic was too young for “Max.” But beyond the potentially frightening material, director and co-writer Boaz Yakin’s film is just a weird hodgepodge of themes and plot threads.

It’s an earnestly patriotic movie about sacrifice for one’s country, clearly aimed at conservative, Christian audiences. But it also features a character who’s way too willing to share classified information with a teenager. It has its heartwarming moments and even some thrilling ones, as that teenager and the dog learn to work together, trust each other and share spirited adventures. But it’s also about overcoming racial prejudices and owning up to oft-repeated untruths.

It’s also just not very good — and no amount of swelling, inspiring music can convince you otherwise.

Yakin (“Remember the Titans”), working from a script he co-wrote with Sheldon Lettich, veers between all these heavy ideas in ungainly fashion for the film’s nearly-two-hour running time. But he begins with the wholesome image of Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell from “The DUFF”), a good-looking Marine and dog handler who’s been deployed to Afghanistan, enjoying a Skype chat with his parents back home in small-town East Texas. His father, Ray (a glum and gruff Thomas Haden Church), is a Marine veteran himself who suffered a debilitating leg injury during Desert Storm. (Strangely, despite the frequent mention of the leg, we don’t see it a single time.) His mother, Pamela (a sadly understated and underused Lauren Graham), is the family’s dutiful and God-fearing matriarch.

But Kyle’s younger brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins), has no interest in chatting. He’d rather play video games about war, then bootleg them for his friends for profit. He’s so sick of being compared to his superstar older brother that he’s gone out of his way to be as different — and underachieving — as possible. Surely, some life lessons are in store for this wayward young man.

They come early, in one of the movie’s many multi-hanky moments, when Kyle is killed under mysterious circumstances in battle. At his funeral, Max — the brave and highly trained Belgian Malinois who’d been his constant, trusty companion — bursts through the back door of the church, stands on his hind legs to whimper over Kyle’s American flag-draped coffin, then lies down loyally on the ground in front of it.

But as Max’s trainer at the base (Jay Hernandez) informs the family, this brilliant dog refuses to respond to anyone anymore and might have to be euthanized. Cosmically, though, he has a connection with Justin. At first, the disaffected teen has zero interest in helping, until the all-night barking and whimpering become too much to bear. Justin learns to retrain Max with the aid of his good friend, the sassy Chuy (Dejon LaQuake), and Chuy’s brash and beautiful cousin, Carmen (Mia Xilali), who’s been around dogs all her life. This is the section in which “Max” really hits its stride, with the three kids working together and forming a heartwarming bond with a beautiful creature.

But soon, the movie veers off course into some strange and dangerous territory, as Justin and his pals suspect Kyle’s longtime friend and fellow Marine, Tyler (Luke Kleintank), is up to no good. Tyler’s secret meetings in the woods with leather-clad baddies are a sure sign, as are the drooling, growling Rottweilers accompanying these men. (Max finds himself brawling with these muscular canines a couple times to protect Justin and his friends, which is extremely hard to watch.) Suddenly this warmly old-fashioned, kid-adventure movie has turned into something much colder and darker.

If there’s any useful lesson to come out of “Max,” it’s that dogs can suffer fron post-traumatic stress disorder, too. In one of the film’s more artful and emotionally effective sequences, Max paces about nervously in his backyard crate as multicolored July 4th fireworks explode overhead. In one of many sensitive moments from Wiggins, Justin finds the heart to climb inside and soothe him.

It’s a rare and cutting bit of truth in a movie that’s too-often smothered in nostalgic Americana.

19 Comments on “Max

  1.  by  Mother of 6yr old

    It’s just not good?? Really? You are a horrible critic. I bet ya wouldn’t know what a meaningful story was if it bit ya in the face. It was a VERY good movie. Yes. A little too violent, but not enough to make it PG-13. It is a PG, meaning “Parental Guidance”. You being a mother to your 5.5 yr old are His Parental Guidance. I give this a 9/10. Never gonna consider your so called “critic” review for all future movie goings.

    •  by  Accipiter

      Did you bother reading the review at all, or did you simply stop when you saw “it’s also not very good”? The reviewer explains why she felt the film wasn’t good, and they’re all very accurate observations. Just because she disliked a movie you enjoyed doesn’t make her a ‘horrible critic’.

    •  by  More than just 'Merica

      I just finished watching this movie and I agree. It’s really bad writing and the best actor in the whole thing were the dogs that played Max. Get through the gross ‘Merica-ness and actually watch it next time if you want to pay to see it again.

  2.  by  Paula

    I thought it was an awful movie. It was full of punk kids, guns, fighting dogs, a so-called marine who gives marines a bad name, liars, violent Mexicans who only want guns and contraband, and bad acting. I took my 11-year-old daughter and we should have left halfway through. We wanted Homeward bound to come up on the screen! Felt sorry for the Rotties who were hurt then poor Max got pretty beat up too. It was a dark movie, a waste of money IMHO.

    •  by  Accipiter

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed the awful acting. Whenever the main character was sad, he had this glowering expression that looked like he was going to murder someone. The banter between the friend and cousin was painfully out of touch, as if some middle-aged writer tried to imagine how ‘kids these days’ talk. The mediocre plot could have been salvaged if they’d simply hired some better actors.

    •  by  Terri

      I have a Rottie and I was very disappointed how they showed them as the typical stereotype and not at all pleased to watch this poor dog either chained to the backyard or forced to live in a small crate in the backyard.

  3.  by  Memo

    why Hunger Games is PG-13? honestly is not that violent compare to what teens are playing in video games in our days. From my point of view it is a movie to highly recommend. True life story and meaningful teachings out of it.

  4.  by  Sid Blackwelder

    You said it’s a patriotic movie, clearly aimed at Conservative and Christians. So now the leftists are ADMITTING they aren’t patriotic.

    •  by  Accipiter

      …huh? What does that have to do with anything? I consider myself mostly liberal, and I didn’t like the movie because of poor acting and Hallmark-channel level production and script, not because of the subject matter. I was really looking forward to seeing a movie about a military dog. I went into the movie hoping to enjoy it. Just because a movie disappoints you doesn’t mean it’s because of your political leaning.

  5.  by  D

    This critic did not understand this wonderful captivating movie. That showed a heroic military dog that was loyal not only to his handler but to his kid brother a troubled teed that the dog rescues. This wonderful dog not only saves the kid brother but the whole family and also saves a cache of stolen weapons from falling into the hands of the cartel. People erupted into applause at the conclusion of this movie. I think this movie critic needs to get a new job because she failed horrible on this one. Yes I read the entirety of her dribble before I went to the movie.

    •  by  M

      I also do not agree with this critic I thought it was a wonderful movie and my family really enjoyed it! As far as being too violent I guess thats the parents call but we live in what seems to be an increasingly violent world and sheltering children to the real dangers and evils of it will not do them any favors in the long run.
      I’m glad I didn’t base my decision to watch this on critic’s opinions because I might have missed out on a great movie!

  6.  by  Matt

    I haven’t seen this film but I have seen the trailer. The trailer makes it obvious that this film is not appropriate for a 5 year old. Bringing a 5 year old to this film shows an extreme lack of judgement.

  7.  by  Chris

    I don’t take people like you seriously… violet? its as violet as a fucking cartoon your child watch and you don’t see the “death” of the solider at all you brought you almost six year old son to watch a movie…. and you were inspecting a Disney movie

    Hack even airbud had its moments, dog being drop of its turck? being tied up with over drunk clown who abuses his down with the papers and what more not? a dog who seriously…. didn’t trust humans

    and you whine about this movie? its blockbuster movie? No its good movie? yes

  8.  by  Jenn

    I haven’t seen the movie yet – but who would let a 5 1/2 year-old go to see a movie like that anyway? It says PG-13 not G. Wow.

    •  by  Christy Lemire

      Well, every kid is different, right? And different kids can handle different kinds of material. My son happens to have seen a lot more movies — and a wider variety of movies — than most kids his age, and so he has the perspective to notice when something seems especially scary or intense. It looked like a heartwarming movie about a dog (and he loves dogs). I wanted to help other folks by letting them know what’s in store for them. But thanks for your concern about my parenting abilities.

  9.  by  Quinley

    This movie was about dogs used through history in wartime situations – well that’s the message I got anyway.

    But, as it was not a documentary, it needed some type of plot. A hero, some villains, children, a family crises and a love of a country. Now where do you find all of those and put them together.

    My wife asked me if this was a Disney movie. I told her I didn’t think Disney would produce such a waste of two hours.