‘Max’ Is a Mess

MAX (2.5 out of 10) Directed by Boaz Yakin; Written by Boaz Yakin and Sheldon Lettich; Starring Thomas Haden ChurchJosh WigginsLuke KleintankLauren GrahamRobbie AmellMia XitlaliDejon LaQuake; Rated PG for “action violence, peril, brief language and some thematic elements.” 111 minutes. Opening wide June 26, 2015.

Nothing could be simpler than a story of a boy and his dog, right? And yet somehow the makers of “Max” are able to screw this up with this muddled mess of a story. 

Max is a trained Marine dog, paired with his handler Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell) serving in Afghanistan. When Kyle is killed in action, Max comes home with him to small town East Texas. Separated from his handler, Max is suffering from doggy Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and ends up being taken in by Kyle’s family.

Kyle’s younger brother Justin (Josh Wiggins) would rather play video games than think about the military, and so feels out of place in his home with overbearing, stiff former Marine Seargeant dad (Thomas Haden Church). But, thanks to the help of a new friend/romantic interest Carmen, who has experience training dogs, Justin and Max eventually form a bond as the two misfits.

So far, ok– and then this movie takes a weird turn as another returning marine from Kyle’s battalion is selling stolen arms… from the Taliban… to Mexican drug cartels… and the cops are in on it. so it’s up to Max, Justin — and his bmx bike —  to foil them! No, seriously. That’s what happens.

Maybe treated in a different way, this would’ve worked. Or if this had been the 80’s and we’re used to such cheese. But it tries to be elements of  “Rambo: First Blood” (PTSD vs local corrupt cops), “American Sniper” (glorification of war vs. life at home), a bad afterschool special about teens not getting along with their gruff military fathers, and Scooby Doo/The Hardy Boys (kids solving mysteries) and it just doesn’t work. At all. 

Which is too bad, because this could have been a good movie. The stuff in Afghanistan with Robbie Amell is actually pretty compelling. WAY too violent and disturbing for a PG movie, but the pre-credit dedication of this film to the dogs who serve in the military since World War I makes me think, “Man, those dogs and their handlers deserve a better movie than this.” You could still tell that side-by-side with a story about a dog suffering puppy shellshock and the young misfit who finds purpose and duty in training and loving a misfit pet. THAT’s your movie, not whatever this garbage was.

It’s sad, because Amell and Lauren Graham both try their best to elevate this material, and almost succeed. Thomas Haden Church, however, must’ve assumed that because so much of the movie takes place in his wooded backyard and the woods around the area that he should emulate one of the trees. Is “over-stoic” a word? Because that’s what he is. Not that the script gave him much to work with, but come on!

If you’re looking for a movie to take your kids to, go see “Inside Out.” If you want to think about what it means to grow up, go see “Inside Out.” If you want a movie with action that makes you think at the same time, go see “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Do not go see “Max.”

Bad dog.

2.5 out of 10