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Every dog has his day Max'

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Family-friendly effort mostly falls flat

One could definitely argue that on the summer box office slate, there's no room among the animated blockbusters, over-the-top comedies and CGI action movies for smaller, more niche-oriented movies. Happily, that doesn't stop people from occasionally trying. And that variation in fare can be a welcome respite from the high-volume popcorn sensibility of the season.

Unfortunately, it becomes a lot harder to make that happen when one such movie falls flat in its efforts to try something a little different.

'Max' is an undeniably earnest movie, clearly trying to hearken back to simpler, family-friendly films. Unfortunately, earnestness and good intentions aren't enough.

Young Justin Wincott (Josh Wiggins, 'Hellion') is a teenager living at home with his cheery mom (Lauren Graham, TV's 'Parenthood') and his ex-Marine dad (Thomas Haden Church, 'Heaven Is for Real'). His older brother Kyle (Robbie Amell, TV's 'The Flash') is a soldier, working in Afghanistan as the handler of a dog named Max.

When Kyle is killed, Max is sent back stateside. Suffering from PTSD, the dog is scheduled to be put down until Max encounters Justin. Since he's the only one who can handle the dog, Justin reluctantly agrees to take responsibility for Max.

Only it turns out that Kyle's buddy and fellow soldier Tyler (Luke Kleintank, 'Phantom Halo') might be hiding the real story of Kyle's death and is willing to lay the blame on Max. He's also involved in some sort of illegal weapons dealing, because well, it's unclear. There's also a lot of mountain biking and difficulty expressing feelings.

Anyway, Justin and Max have to team up with Justin's friends Chuy and Carmen (Dejon LaQuake and Mia Xitlali in their feature debuts) in order to clear Max's name and stop Tyler from selling his inexplicably-procured guns to never-quite-clearly-defined other guys.

(At this point, it's important to add a disclaimer: I cried a lot during this movie. Like big, fat, not-even-ashamed tears. I'm a sucker for dogs adventuring anyway, and when you couple that with the film's frequency of emotional manipulation, it was a perfect storm of tears. However, just because it made me cry doesn't make it a good movie. Maelstrom of weeping, yes; good movie, no.)

Here's the thing you can kind of see the intent behind 'Max.' There's the potential for a pretty solid kid flick here. The dog playing Max is adorable and delightful. The kids are that right kind of inexperienced I'd rather have a child actor be a little unsure as opposed to obnoxiously oversure, and these kids mostly handle it all right.

It's funny to see Graham and Church here, but they're pros and they go about their business like they've done this before. Neither one is giving anything spectacular, but they're perfectly fine. As for our villain, I hesitate to lay too much blame at Kleintank's feet. He's been much better than this before; the nature of his character's arc and attitude is likely too disconnected to be easily handled.

And that's the thing the movie takes an abrupt turn in the middle. It's a film about a family coming together after the loss of a loved one by way of his dog until it's a clunky YA mystery where a boy and his dog get tied up with hillbilly arms dealers. Either one of those movies would have been better than the attempt to bring them together.

It's too bad, really 'Max' is the sort of summer counterprogramming that could be a nice alternative to explosions and superheroes and cartoons. But if this is the sort of effort audiences come to expect, their already-tenuous appeal will evaporate. Yes, I cried, but not everyone is as soft a touch as I am.

'Max' isn't a particularly good movie, though it is a mostly inoffensive one. It's a poorly-edited, clunky narrative that is only partially redeemed by a likeable cast. Your heartstrings will be tugged, but in the end, the film is fine for what it is, but ultimately forgettable.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 30 June 2015 21:38


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