Friday, July 10, 2015

Movie Review #278: "Max" (2015)

Director: Boaz Yakin
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
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Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell) is a marine and a military dog handler fighting in Afghanistan. After being killed in action, his dog Max (Carlos) will no longer respond to any other marines because he bonded so much with Kyle. The only person Max will let near him is Kyle's rebelious little brother Justin (Josh Wiggins). In order to prevent Max from being put down, the Wincott family adopts him. When a fellow soldier and childhood friend of Kyle's named Tyler (Luke Kleintank) shows up at their house, Kyle's father Ray (Thomas Hayden Church), a former marine himself, is quick to take him under his wing, but Max knows Tyler is not be trusted and Justin is determined to find out why. 

Texas, God, marines, guns, and couldn't get more American if a bald eagle was eating an apple pie while watching a baseball game. We can't say we were looking forward to this film because typically, when an animal's name is in the title of a movie, well, things don't end up so well for the critter, and we just can't handle that kind of heartbreak all the time. "Max" has a middle America appeal to it and even from the opening sequence, it feels this way from start to finish. It also has a very made-for-TV feel in the way it is portrayed on screen, almost like a Lifetime movie, but directed at menfolk. From time to time, there are some intensely dramatic moments which feel like we should be taking them seriously. But then, there are other times when we're left to cry, deeply involved in the story and surrounded by a puddle of our own tears because we feel so strongly about what has just taken place. It's a mixed bag when it comes to everything but Max the dog, and we'll get into that now.

None of the actual human actors are very good in the film, which is a bummer because we really do like some of them in other works. The main character Justin, played by Josh Wiggins, is a total snot of a kid with a bad attitude and constantly walks around with an "I hate the world" snarl on his face. He eventually comes around, but it's not until the last 20 minutes where he really, truly wipes said frown off his face. Justin's dad Ray, played by Thomas Hayden Church, is the stereotypical military father who cannot connect with his younger son, always showing a clear preference for Justin's older brother Kyle. Kyle, of course, in an effort to bond with his dad who is his idol and can do no wrong, chooses to follow in his father's footsteps and join the Marines, only to be killed in the line of fire within the first 2 minutes of the movie (which isn't a spoiler since it's in the trailer and synopsis of the film). Lauren Graham, who you might remember from the television show "Parenthood," plays Justin's mom Pamela. Unfortunately for Graham, she can't decide whether or not she has a Southern accent. She waffles a bit and loses it throughout the movie, whenever it seems convenient or when she's in "Gilmore Girls" mode, talking so fast that she forgets she's supposed to sport one. Besides Pamela, none of the other characters have an accent, so why make her use one when it's obviously super fake? There's a lot of stereotypical aspects to this story. Hell, even Justin's love interest Carmen, played by Mia Xitalia, is a bit of a stereotypical character as well. She's almost like a mini-Michelle Rodriguez type of gal: in your face, strong attachment to her heritage, pissed off look and a chip on her shoulder, but soft underneath her gruff exterior. The real star of movie, and really the best actor in the film, is the dog Max, played by Carlos, who is really just great. We are dog lovers, so it's easy for us to relate to caring intensely for such an animal, though this attachment to the character may waver if you're of the cat loving/dog hating variety. We empathize with Max when his handler Kyle, played by Robbie Amell, is killed. You can feel Max's sadness as he lays by his master's casket during his funeral (AND AS WE CRY MASSIVE CROCODILE TEARS). It's almost more sad than some other movies we have seen. We are also able to show concern for Max, since even as a dog, he suffers from a form of PTSD and lives with the constant threat of being put down rather than helped.

Sure, dogs and the military are a cheap and easy ways to spark an emotional response, but it works, so why knock it? It's not like this is the first movie to use this tactic. If it wasn't for Max the dog, however, this movie would be more than totally forgettable and a complete and utter failure. Luckily, thanks to such likable, loving and equally badass dog, though very flawed where its predictable story and crappy human actors are concerned, it is still enjoyable enough.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 39%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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