‘Max’ is such an astoundingly awful movie that it’s embarrassing it got a wide release. The flick is essentially ‘Lassie’ combined with ‘American Sniper’, and somehow even worse than that sounds. At times, it’s downright incompetent.
The movie feels like direct-to-DVD dreck that stumbled into theaters once ‘American Sniper’ made $500 million and Warner Bros. thought it could convince the audience for that movie to bring their kids to this one. Hopefully, no one falls for that dirty trick. Even by the low standards of boy-and-his-dog pictures, this thing truly stinks.
So there’s this dog named Max, you see? He’s been trained to sniff out trouble during warfare in Afghanistan and is sent home after his master is killed in action. The dog even attends the funeral, but is all messed up with doggie PTSD. The only thing that calms Max down is the scent/presence of his former master’s teenage brother (Josh Wiggins). The kid is a troubled teen – not because he’s on drugs or into violence or anything like that. No, just because he bootlegs videogames and doesn’t love Jesus as much as his mom (Lauren Graham) does or the Army as much as his dad (Thomas Haden Church) does. But the dog sure loves him and so they form that special bond that only dogs and young boys can share.
The dog even attracts the attention of the lovely lass cousin (Mia Xitlali) of his best friend (Dejon LaQuake), so all sorts of teen growth is in the cards! Then things get nutty when the dead bro’s former Army buddy (Luke Kleintank) stars setting up illegal border-hopping arms deals in the humble town. What a jerk! If only there were a plucky teen with a canine trained to sniff out ammunition who could stop him. Hmmmm…
Yeah, you read that plot summary correctly. That’s actually what this movie is about. Someone thought up the idea, took it to Warner Bros. and was given several million dollars to make it. That someone was Boaz Yakin, the director of ‘Remember the Titans’ and writer of the Dolf Lundgren edition of ‘The Punisher’. He’s never exactly been an accomplished artist, and ‘Max’ suggests that he might not even know how to make a trashy B-movie anymore.
Sure, you could argue that any tale of a boy and his dog is going to be clichéd and cheesy by design. That’s fair. This mess is still inexcusable when held up to even those low standards. It doesn’t have a single dialogue scene that isn’t cringe-worthy in execution and design. The Hispanic friends that the protagonist have been given speak and act exclusively in racial stereotypes in an awkward attempt to preach racial harmony. All the young actors in the film are pretty rough, but it’s hard to blame them specifically given that they were stuck with characters who have nothing to do beyond share conversations that serve the plot mechanics.
The actually talented adult actors Church and Graham at least commit to their roles earnestly. The fact that they don’t thoroughly embarrass themselves speaks to their unfortunately underused talents. Chances are both of them assumed they were performing in a movie that would never make it to theaters, and it’s a bit sad to think that they’ve been shoved out in front of the masses in such a horribly produced feature.
Even when the movie turns into a souped-up ‘Lassie’ episode with gunplay action sequences, it never once stretches above cheaply produced incompetence. In theory, Boaz Yakin should at least be able to handle the action scenes given his experience, but since he’s stuck with dogs as his primary action leads, the scenes are clumsy in execution. Clearly, the editors didn’t quite have the necessary doggie-fight footage to pull off the scenes as designed, and chopped together blurry messes to suggest action that the audience never quite sees.
‘Max’ is truly a film that fails on every conceivable level and is impossible to recommend even to viewers who are particularly obsessed with canine action flicks. ‘Max’ is the latest in a line of military exploitation movies designed to pluck money from the pockets of audiences connected to that institution. Given the vast number of Americans who are either in the military or related to someone in that world, it’s no surprise that studios would gear a section of their production slates to that captive audience. However, they deserve movies far better than this. Everyone does.