Star Rating:

Max (2015)

Director: Boaz Yakin

Actors: Thomas Haden Church, Josh Wiggins, Luke Kleintank

Release Date: Friday 7th August 2015

Genre(s): Adventure, Family

Running time: 111 minutes

What starts out as a flag-saluting recruitment video turns into a violent Famous Five episode. Neither of which are particularly entertaining.

Justin (Wiggins) is a cynical Texan teen whose marine brother Kyle (Robbie Arnell), a handler for a munition-sniffing German Shepherd called Max, is killed in action in Afghanistan. Max has made it home but his PTSD proves too much for the army kennel and only the reluctant Justin is able to chill the spooked canine out (yeah, give the troubled dog to a young boy). But Justin warms to the dog and needs his protection, and the help of friends (Dejon LaQuake and Mia Xitlati) when he learns that Kyle’s buddy Tyler (Kleintank) is selling guns to a Mexican cartel.

Max tries hard to paint that wholesome image of how America likes to see itself: Dad (Haden Church) is a parade-marching Iraq War veteran and ergo a respected man around the neighbourhood; to cement his down-to-earth goodness we first meet him fixing pipes under the sink. But in a surprising turn of events Max shakes itself loose of its pro-military stance: it doesn’t have a strong anti-war message but slowly Boaz Yakin (Remember The Titans, Safe) chips away at this military family’s myopic outlook. The patriotism Justin’s parents instilled in their son comes back to haunt them through Max’s PTSD and Tyler’s marine issue weapons are eventually turned on their second child. Yakin, to his credit, doesn’t overegg this pudding.

There is some nice stuff, like Justin comforts a scared Max during a Fourth of July fireworks display, but there’s no escaping that this feels like an amalgamation of different drafts with subplots underwritten. It flirts with the idea of Wiggins and Xitlati becoming, like, boyfriend and girlfriend but that fails to develop, as does Justin’s side line in selling pirated video games.

The dialogue is stiff too and not helped by Thomas Haden Church’s typically monotonous delivery; when he confesses that he isn’t the hero people make him out to be, it’s supposed to be the movie’s Big Heart but Haden Church’s sermon-like drone just pulls all emotion out of it.

There’s good and bad to be found here.