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FITS AND STARTS On Digital & VOD December 5

Movie Review: 'Max'

The formulaic dog story Max should be caged.

Review by Matt Cummings

In Director/Writer Boaz Yakin's Max, an army service dog is sent home to live with the family of the fallen soldier Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell). At first, the surviving son Justin (Josh Wiggins) doesn't want the Belgian Malinois around, but his grieving parents Ray and Pamela (Thomas Haden-Church and Lauren Graham) decide to take Max in. As the parents struggle to incorporate Max into their home, Justin gets some much needed help to re-train the dog from his friends Carmen (Mia Xitlali) and Chuy (Dejon LaQuake). But when one of Kyle's fellow soldiers Tyler (Luke Kleintank) returns home to sell stolen weapons to a Mexican cartel, Max, Justin, and his friends must band together to root out the evil and win the day.

Max is one of the worst films I've seen this year, filled with every stereotypical subplot imaginable and doing none of it very well. There's the grieving family who doesn't grieve all that much, the typical television-grade action of soldiers in wartime, and the one-note drug lord who's looking to up his game into gun running. We never really focus on any of these subplots, except when dramatic effect or an action bridge are needed. In fact, the only redeeming quality behind Max is the dog himself, and even he's being obviously led from behind the cameras.

Writers Yakin and Sheldon Lettich do little to create a world where Max seems like the right place for this family, his big personality just overwhelming everyone else. LaQuake as the insert-a-minority-here reads off some of the worst dialogue I've heard, settling in as the story's comedic punching bag, while Xitlali's bad girl outer shell could have given way to a much deeper story about why she throws these walls up and how Max could help heal that. Instead, she's only superficially tough and prone to hitting her cousin Chuy just because. Wiggins can't get dialogue out at various points, his evil-looking eyes never getting to the issues as to why he's so angry. Again, service pets do wonders to melt the ice, but even when that happens he can't handle the dramatics.

Church and Graham, two actors I'd actually like to see more of, struggle here to keep from laughing throughout this heavy-handed script. It's the sort of rah-rah that Lone Survivor and American Sniper was so much better at doing, even if Yakin had no intention of going that dark. PTSD is a real problem among veterans and only barely granting Max with it does nothing to elevate the discussion of the trauma pets must also feel in those sorts of violent environments. From a production standpoint, Max feels like nothing more than an overblown Lifetime movie that somehow slipped in to the theater.

While the formulaic Max does takes a moment during the credits to celebrate the history of service dogs in wartime, the rest of it can be utterly skipped. Filled with horrible dialogue and foreshadowing that can be seen a mile away, its heavy-handed patriotic rah-rah does nothing to elevate the discussion of the extraordinary work these animals actually perform. This isn't something I could even recommend for rental, so I'd do yourself a favor and just watch Mad Max: Fury Road again. You'll thank yourself for skipping this one.

Max is rated PG-13 for action violence, peril, brief language and some thematic elements and has a runtime of 111 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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