Dogs are excellent companions and loyal friends. In the context of cinema, they’re also instant empathy generators. Dogs are innocent, you know? They’re dumb, fuzzy animals with a lot of love to give. Nobody with a heart wants to see anything bad happen to a dog. Make a dog the centerpiece of your film, and you’ve got guaranteed heart-wrenching moments between man and his best friend.
Unless, of course, all of your human characters are so bafflingly daft and unpleasant that your audience can barely give a shit.
The titular Max, a Belgian Malinois, is a sweet marine dog under the care of handler Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell). Kyle is in Afghanistan, sniffing out arms with Max and childhood friend Tyler (Luke Kleintank), who’s up to no good. When things go south, Kyle dies tragically and Max is left with terrible PTSD, leaving him unable to function as a dog of war. Back home in Texas (of course), the Wincotts mourn their brave marine boy, the father (Thomas Haden Church, of Heaven is For Real fame) and little brother Justin (Josh Wiggins) stoically shedding nary a man-tear, as mom (Lauren Graham) sobs uncontrollably. They adopt Max before he’s put down, and the veteran canine only seems to trust Justin, the young teen who spends his time pirating and selling video games to Mexican cartel guys, who are related to his best friend Chuy (Dejon LaQuake). Chuy’s cousin just so happens to be the dog-savvy Carmen (Mia Xitlali), who exists to make snappy comments and teach Justin how to be a good dog handler. Tyler then returns home, and brings the no good he was up to with him: he has somehow smuggled back weapons from Afghani caches, and intends to sell them to the Mexican cartel. Some local police are in on it, because why the hell not.
No, I’m not lying.
Nothing that happens in this movie is even vaguely within the realm of possibility. I can only assume it was written by a Martian whose only exposure to humanity was an infowars-sponsored documentary on American culture wars, indoctrinated with the kind of racism that carries no malice, only pure, unfiltered ignorance. Brown folks make racist jokes at their own expense. Middle Eastern people are caricatures behind veils and beards, irrationally determined to defy the righteous American soldiers. A kid tries to sell a pirated video game for over two hundred dollars. Why Mexican drug cartels want to buy weapons leftover from the 1980s, that were somehow brought over by a corrupt and not-terribly-bright soldier, is completely beyond me, and I suspect beyond them as well. Not a single plot point in this movie speaks to reality, to empathy, to humanity. The lone bright point, a good-natured dog, is made to fight Rottweilers to the death, so we watch one of them go over a waterfall, never to be seen again. None of this is convincing or reasonable.
Despite the actors’ best collective efforts, the teens’ dialogue sounds like it was written by someone who was never a teenager (or indeed a human.) The banter is so forced that its only recourse is to retreat into an insane overuse of slang, or bizarre insults (“Makin’ eyes at the white boy? You’re a traitor to your race.” “Mexican isn’t a race, stupid.”) We know that Justin and Chuy are friends because we are told it is so. We know that Justin and Carmen have mutual crushes because Chuy won’t stop making awkward comments about it. All of the dialogue in this movie feels incredibly forced, but the teens in particular sound like they’re doing cold readings from an extraterrestrial’s script.
This is all thrice as bewildering when you realize one of the writers, and the director, is Boaz Yakin, director of Remember The Titans, and writer of Now You See Me. He’s clearly capable of better work. Why does this feel like it was written by a Martian and directed by its offspring? Was Yakin body-snatched? What is going on here?
The movie states that it was made to honor all the dogs and their handlers that have served the American military. This goal is very noble, but it’s hard not to think those folks and their fine canines would have been better served by a film that addressed their true struggles. A film about truly meaningful connections, about dogs and people healing from trauma and loss, and the support they can find in each other, would have been touching, beautiful even; we didn’t get that movie. The movie as it stands is a wholly unrealistic “adventure” film, in which dogs fight dogs and stereotypes rule. How does any of that honor the sacrifices of these animals and their handlers? How does it afford them the dignity they deserve? This film seems not only unrealistic, but in poor taste if honoring these people and animals is truly your goal.
There isn’t a way for me to talk about Max that pretends I was anything other than angry by the time it was over. At best I can describe what I was angry about, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of that here; the sins of this film are too great for even God to have kept track of. When Armageddon comes and the archangels are gathering us for our judgment, Max will be found wanting. All copies of it will be sundered by His terrible swift sword, their remnants shot into space.
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