Do you like your family-friendly movies to have a little more of those good ol’ “family values” in them? Well, if your idea of proper family entertainment involves loyal dogs and/or capital-P Patriotism, you’re in luck: Max takes these elements and rams them together in a film that gets strange as it goes on. How strange? How about adding in a subplot about a Mexican drug cartel and stolen military-grade weapons?
In Max, the titular Marine Corps dog is the loyal and brilliant companion to Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell), helping Kyle sniff out weapons in Afghanistan. When Kyle is killed in an ambush, Max comes down with PTSD. Unable to do anything with the dog, the Marines give Max to Kyle’s younger brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins), who is quickly shown as being the opposite of his brother. Justin is sullen, flippant and not taken with the idea of joining the military.
Up until this point, the film is a bit on the cheesy side, but it’s fairly effective. It’s obvious that Justin will help Max heal, and Max in turn will help Justin grow up. It helps that both Wiggins and the dog give solid performances, and that Justin’s approach to the dog is measured and humane. One particular highlight happens when Justin realizes that the Fourth of July fireworks in town might be triggering Max’s PTSD back at home, then rushes home to comfort the dog.
But that’s not enough for the film. Another marine from Kyle’s unit is reintroduced into the Wincotts’ lives, and for some reason, Max grows agitated whenever he shows up. The film then begins to incorporate the aforementioned Mexican cartel, as well as gun traffickers, and a dog trainer who’s all too eager to provide classified information to Justin.
The film opens and closes with mentions of service dogs in war, and it makes sure to play up the pro-America angle every five minutes or so just to make sure audiences get it. In combination with everything else, the film has a lot going on, and rarely is able to cover it well. If anything, it feels like something designed to reach out specifically to conservative-leaning families who like to lean on things like “family values.” In that regard, it’s a better example of this type of film that’s become somewhat popular in recent years. Still, the film comes across as something hobbled together specifically to appeal to a particular audience, and it loses a lot of potential because of this.