When I saw the posters for ‘Max’, I was under the impression that this would be a movie set thick in the action of war – just from a dog’s perspective. I’m always wary of animal led films as they risk being very cheesy and very unrealistic; well-trained animals, by my own experience, are a thing of mythology. I also expected to get emotional – war AND a canine hero – these things never end well do they.
Much to my surprise, the warzone aspect lasts all of 10 minutes, before Max (our titular, four-legged hero) returns to America and is placed in the care of his handler’s family, the Wincotts. Young son Justin (Josh Wiggins) is more concerned with battling on his games console than venturing into the real world to follow in his father and older brother Kyle’s footsteps, but when Max takes a shine to him and him only, it is now his responsibility to care for the troubled animal. When Tyler (Luke Kleintank), Kyle’s closest comrade, returns from the war, Max isn’t too happy and and Tyler is hellbent on taking out the family pet in order to cover up his criminal secrets.
I can’t say much about the dog’s performance, apart from that Max is a ridiculously well trained animal and a very loyal and loveable hero. Alongside him, Josh Wiggins is actually not as cheesy as you’d expect from a boy who spends all his time with an animal. He leaves that responsibility to his pals Chuy and Carmen (Dejon LaQuake and Mia Xitlali respectively), who are guilty of embarrassing acting and dialogue delivery. Wiggins, in fact, offers a character who goes from moody teen to young adult very quickly and convincingly, and by the end of the film you will like him, a bit. The villain of the plot, Tyler, certainly has a malevolent agenda, but Luke Kleintank isn’t the most menacing of actors really and it’s hard to be too afraid of his character.
So the movie was not what I anticipated at all, more ‘Homeward Bound’ than ‘American Sniper’, going down the path of uplifting family film rather than action-packed war epic. I originally thought this would carry the usual “based on a true story” tag, but I didn’t spot one anywhere, and the way the plot unfolded, it became more and more apparent that this was a story of fiction. It was actually downright ludicrous at times, from theatrical dog fights to cartel conspiracies and a seemingly immortal canine. This film was put together as a tribute to the dogs lost during human battle, but sadly it was easy to forget the reality of this with such a long-winded, fantastical story a the heart of it all.
I sound like I’m really disappointed by this film. Not so much disappointed though, as ambivalent. It was a real middle-of-the-road film, a very linear and predictable narrative, embellished by some madcap finer details, but still reaching the kind of conclusion you’d expect from a Disney film. I didn’t dislike ‘Max’, and I certainly don’t regret watching it at all. It was a very nice film but it wasn’t exactly captivating, and for that reason I don’t think it will last long in the memory. I do want a reliable guard dog now though, so that’s a win.
Director: Boaz Yakin
Starring: Josh Wiggins, Luke Kleintank, Thomas Haden Church, Lauren Graham