Director: Boaz Yakin
Major Players: Josh Wiggins, Thomas Haden Church
Out Of Five: 2.5
You know what they say about good intentions. Well, there’s a cinematic equivalent: a film with its heart in the right place and a potentially interesting story, but one that misses the mark every time. And it almost makes the likes of me feel guilty about criticising it. Almost. Because I have to tell it how I see it.
The story behind Max is about military dogs and their handlers. The eponymous dog has served with distinction on the front line in Afghanistan. He has an extremely close bond with his handler, Kyle, but is traumatised by his death and won’t respond to anybody. Brought back to the US for Kyle’s funeral, he meets the family and is calmer around the younger son, Justin (Josh Wiggins), so they decide to adopt him. There’s all manner of problems but eventually training from Justin and his friend Carmen (Mia Xitlali) starts to work. Then Kyle’s closest friend turns up, ingratiates himself with the family and implies that Max was responsible for his death in Afghanistan. He has his own motives and Justin, his friends and, of course, Max, have to find a way of uncovering the truth.
You can almost see the film’s dividing line in that paragraph. It gets off to a promising enough start, showing how Max acts as the advance party for the Marines, the strength of his instincts and his bond with his handler. And it continues to the home front, when he’s taken to the funeral by a couple of Marines. The dog is clearly distressed, straining at the leash to get to the coffin and it’s a moving moment. But after that, any remaining dramatic potential gets washed away in a tide of soap suds.
It turns into a family film – or, at least, tries to because those early scenes and some later on where Max fights with a Rottweiler, are hardly family fodder and somewhat at odds with its 12A certificate. The rest of the film is decidedly U certificate, with a paper thin plot about the old Marine buddy getting a job with Justin’s dad (Thomas Haden Church) as a cover for an arms dealing business. It almost edges into Scooby Doo territory, given that he has a dog and some pesky kids on his trail. OK, they’re all on BMX bikes, but you get the picture. Somebody needs to tell director Boaz Yakin that being a family film isn’t syonymous with a lack of quality.
Hallmark’s written all over it, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say sub-Disney. Not only is the storyline weak, it’s desperately predictable and at times nothing short of mawkish. The acting is decidedly inferior as well, with the best performance comes from the dog Carlos as Max – and even he turns out to be something of a wonder dog, with some glaring inaccuracies in his portrayal.
So why has Warner Brothers decided to give this a cinematic release? The timing makes a modicum of sense, as it’s clearly aimed at a family audience, but it’s going to sink without trace against the likes of Inside Out, Ant-Man and Fantastic Four, which is released the day before. It’s nothing more than an average film made for television and that’s where it should be. On a Saturday morning.
The really sad thing is that, underneath the thick layer of sugary mush, there’s a story that’s really worth exploring, but it’s left untouched. Perhaps somebody else would care to do it justice.
Max is released in cinemas on Friday, 7 August and is also reviewed on Talking Pictures.