A boy and his dog — it's been a classic story-line for books, television shows, and movies for many decades. From "Lassie," "Benji," and "Old Yeller" to more current movies and books like "Marley and Me," and "Air Bud," everyone loves a dog movie. We all (or at least all of us dog lovers out there) personify a dog and are immediately pulled into a story about two precious topics: kids and dogs.
"Max" takes full advantage of this classic premise just in time for summer movie fun for children and families. With this new film, "Max" finds a way to give the viewer more food for thought than just a little entertaining kibble. Contemplating war, loyalty and motives behind war are also ever-so gently addressed.
Kyle Wincott (Robbie Arnell) is not only a dog-handling marine in a combat zone in Afghanistan, he is also a hero in the eyes of his parents. This, of course, is much to the chagrin of his younger, disrespectful, trouble-maker little brother, Justin. Upon Kyle's death, he is returned to be buried, but his dog, Max, has a much greater job ahead of him: Justin and Max help each other find a new path in life.
Justin and his older brother couldn't be any more different and with those differences comes resentment from Justin. Taking care of his deceased brother's "psycho dog" is the furthest thing on Justin's mind. But when a pretty young girl, the equivalent of "a female Cesar Milan," comes along, Justin changes his tune. We now have the filmmaking checklist being quickly marked off: dog-check, young love-check, tension with parents-check. Racial stereotype intolerance, prejudice, crimes and moral are all checked off the list as well. Is this movie predictable? Of course it is, but credit is given with it's unique vehicle for driving home messages and information about this particular service dog. As I eluded to earlier, there is a bit more to the story than just the classic "boy and his dog" story-line. There is also the element of truth: dogs helping in the military and the bond between the dog and its owner. The intelligence and loyalty these dogs possess along with the service they provide is unparalleled and this film drives that home for us.
Josh Wiggins takes the lead role as the younger, rebellious Justin Wincott and runs with it. He's a typical teenage boy, epitomizing the anger and inability kids at this age have in communicating their feel ins and frustrations. His cynicism resonates in this character as someone who has many internal struggles, but at the heart of his role is just a young boy trying to become a man. Thomas Haden Church's character is the typical autocratic, authoritative father acing his own demons and internal struggles. He too allows the audience to see inside his heart and mind, understanding him in a way a child cannot. Communication lacks in this fictional family with Pamela (Lauren Graham) attempting to hold it all together. Max, however is the true star of the film and with the perfectly cut shots, unique camera angles, and filming from the dog's view, the story becomes complete. Augmenting all of this with appropriate sound effects and music and the film delivers exactly what it intended.
"Max" has it all. It's a kids' adventure movie wrought with moral decisions and personal growth. It's a young love story (dare I say "puppy love?") and it's a high action film full of suspense, tension and chase scenes. There are no high end cars, just BMX and geared bikes. The good guys and the bad guys are very well-defined and even with these clear cut lines, the film still delivers a positive message in an entertaining way.
"Max" is a family film that will capture your heart, pull on those heart-strings quite a bit, and deliver a message for every age. what separates this film from other typical "boy and his dog" movies is the fact that we do learn about the service of these highly trained canines in the military. This, as the film states, has been going on since WWI. The facts and figures used as bookends in this film remind us that although this is a fictitious film, there are some bold and sobering facts to which we should pay attention.
3 out of 4 stars