27 June 2015 | CleveMan66
"Max" is old-fashioned and imprefect, but is still an enjoyable action-adventure that the whole family can enjoy.
Hollywood's affinity for heroic dogs on the big screen dates back to the silent film era, but only a very few of those canine characters became famous. A German Shepherd named Strongheart starred in a half-dozen silent films in the 1920s, including 1925's adaptation of the novel "White Fang". A much more famous German Shepherd movie star was Rin Tin Tin, who appeared in over two dozen movies in the 1920s and early 30s. Both dogs' bloodlines survive to this day, with Rin Tin Tin's direct descendants appearing in films into the 1940s, and Rin Tin Tin XII still making public appearances. Of course, the most famous hero dog of all is the collie named Lassie. As the character (a dog named Pal and Pal's descendants), Lassie made several movies in the 40s and early 50s (and a few more since), had a radio show in the late 40s and starred in a very popular 1954-1973 television series, and made various TV appearances since. So, can the hero dog in the movie "Max" (PG, 1:51) lay claim to the mantle of Strongheart, Rin Tin Tin and Lassie? That's a pretty tall order, but Max definitely fits the mold.
Max (played by a dog named Carlos, who previously appeared in "Project Almanac") is a Belgian Malinois (a type of Belgian Shepherd) who is employed as a military working dog, sniffing out weapons, explosives and other kinds of trouble for U.S. Marines in Afghanistan. When his handler, Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell), is killed, Max accompanies the body back to the U.S. and is even brought to Kyle's funeral. The dog formed such a strong bond with Kyle and was so traumatized by combat that he won't obey anyone else. But Max is relatively calm around Kyle's teenage brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins), so Justin's parents, Ray (Thomas Hayden Church) and Pamela (Lauren Graham) decide to adopt the dog.
Like it or not (mostly not), Justin is put in charge of taking care of Max. Justin learns a few tricks from a girl named Carmen (Mia Xitlali), the cousin of his best friend, Chuy (Dejon LaQuake), and in a very short time, Max is off leash and following Justin and his friends as they daringly ride their bikes through the woods near their homes. Max seems to be warming up to everyone except Tyler Harne (Luke Kleintank), a boyhood friend of Kyle's and fellow Marine who was since returned from Afghanistan. Whenever Max sees Tyler, he wants to attack. Carmen tells Justin that dogs are usually good judges of character. Justin also senses that there is something not right about Tyler, even as Ray hires Tyler to work for him. Justin approaches another Marine dog handler (Jay Hernandez) for information about Tyler and does some deep forest reconnaissance of his own, with Max in tow. I don't want to reveal too much, so I'll just say that Justin's and Max's instincts about Tyler are not wrong and what they discover in those woods jeopardizes their safety and that of their family and friends.
"Max" is an old-fashioned action-adventure, very much in the tradition of earlier canine movie stars. There are clear-cut good guy and bad guy characters. Right and wrong are well-defined and values like loyalty and self-sacrifice are front and center. There is danger (shown with impressive cinematography) and even death, but no blood – and no swearing or sexuality. This is family-friendly fare at its finest
almost. The first half of the movie is pretty slow. Some of the dialog is not just old-fashioned, it's distractingly trite and even a little silly. The performances from the adult cast members are strong, while the teenagers' acting is barely adequate. But those complaints matter less and less as the film progresses, especially if you're looking for a movie without the R-rated and even PG13-rated on-screen pitfalls that concern many parents. And I heard they're already planning a sequel in which Max has rabies. They're going to call it "Mad Max". (Sorry, couldn't resist.) But seriously folks, "Max" is the kind of movie Hollywood rarely makes these days. It's a throwback, and an imperfect one at that, but is one the whole family can enjoy. "B"