“He screws up just one time – one time – he gets put down. You understand me? That’s the last word on it,” says Ray Wincott (Thomas Hayden Church), angry and grieving father. He’s talking about war dog Max, canine partner of marine son Kyle (Robbie Amell) who died violently in Afghanistan. Younger son Justin (Josh Wiggins) adopts his brother’s dog, when the military diagnoses Max with post-traumatic stress disorder. “The military was going to kill Max,” says Justin’s mother (Lauren Graham). That’s the setup for this family drama about grief, love, courage and reconciliation.
Will Max adapt to civilian life and learn to trust Justin? Does Ray take out his anger and grief on Max? Why was Kyle’s buddy Tyler Harne’s (Luke Kleintank) mustered out of the marines? For answers, see “Max.”
Lead actor in “Max” is talented young Josh Wiggins as serious-minded, low-key Justin whose commitment to his brother’s memory is the emotional heart of the movie. Opposite Wiggins is Carlos, a Belgian Malinois, who plays war dog Max (assisted by four other dogs – Jagger, Dude, Pilot, and Pax).
Thomas Hayden Church is Ray, ex-marine with issues, who lost a leg in Iraq and a son in Afghanistan. Lauren Graham is understanding mother and wife, who tells her taciturn husband, “If you want to know what’s going on with Justin, it’s time you talked to him. We’ve already lost one son. We don’t want to lose another.”
Others in the cast include, as Justin’s friends, free spirit and funny Chuy, Dejon LaQuake, and as Chuy’s young cousin Carmen who knows more about dogs than either Chuy or Justin, attractive Mia Xitali. “Don’t let your dog lead you; you lead the dog,” she says. “Otherwise, he thinks he’s the leader of the pack.” Luke Kleintank is former marine Tyler Harne, who was in Afghanistan with Kyle. “Kyle always wanted to be a hero,” Tyler says. “Me – I’m a realist – I know which way the world turns.”
“Max” is family-friendly drama, a coming-of-age story, a boy-and-his-dog flick, and an over-plotted adventure. Directed and co-written by Boaz Yakin (script help from Sheldon Lettich), it has more plot than it needs, especially in the third reel. (Talk about its plot holes and improbabilities on the way home.) The lessons, however, are clear: “A hero always tells the truth, no matter what people think of him, no matter what the consequences,” say Ray to Justin. It’s an old-fashioned movie – with a real plot.
Rated PG for action, violence, brief language and themes, “Max” runs 111 minutes. Watch for visual references to “E.T.” Stay for the interesting credits.
Grieving boy, dog and dad –
War dog “Max” with PTSD –
Too much plot, but not too bad –
Family flick – grade of “B.”