Sunday, July 5, 2015


You might have missed the trailers for Max. I can't tell if it was under-marketed, or just heavily targeted away from me. Given the number of "kids" movies I see, I find it odd that never saw a trailer, and only caught one commercial on TV.

Short version: A fairly typical feel good kids movie, but very well done within that genre. The plot felt mostly realistic, the characters were fairly three-dimensional, and the emotions were surprisingly complex. While it's not a movie that anyone needs to see, it's also a movie that you will likely enjoy watching.

Oh, and the important bit: The dog does NOT die. I was a bit worried when the poster said "From the producer of Marly and Me".

Since there's a good chance you don't know this movie, let me give you a quick sketch of the plot. Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell, hopefully known to you from The Duff) is a Marine in Afghanistan paired with his dog, Max. He has a good relationship with his solid, "good country folk" family back home. His dad (Thomas Haden Church) is a vet with a bad leg. His mom (Lauren "Gilmore" Graham) is a completely stereotypical Texas mom, soft and loving and so proud of her men (but like any country mom, you don't want to make her mad). His younger brother Justin (Josh Wiggins, in only his second film) is a young adolescent wrestling with growing up in the shadow of a pair of war heroes.

Then Kyle is killed in action. (This isn't really a spoiler, as it is the catalyst that pretty much sets up the movie.) Max is not only lost without his partner, but is suffering from PTSD. He will not respond to anyone else, and the Marines are going to have to put him down. Except that he calms down around Justin. The family refuses to let Kyle's dog die, and brings him home for rehabilitation.

The rehabilitation is complicated by several factors. First, Justin is an aimless 14-year-old who resents this new responsibility. Until he meets Carmen, a tough, cool new girl in town, who happens to love dogs and know quite a bit about training them (her older brother rescues pit bulls). And Tyler, Kyle's best friend who was also in his unit, comes home with some darkness and secrets of his own.

With all the military influences, there is quite a bit of hoo-rah in the film. But it's not overpowering. There's also obviously a lot of dog in the movie. Do be aware that both of these elements are not sunshine and puppies. They are working with a dog with PTSD. He frequently is barking and snapping at people, and he gets into fights with a couple other dogs. There are some scary moments.

While the plot is very formulaic, the screenwriters did an excellent job of making it nearly realistic. The inevitable bad guys are not caricatures, or buffoons. They get defeated by guts, and the intervention of veterans who know how to handle themselves (including, of course, the dog). All the elements come together in a way that feels like it actually could have happened (which puts it a cut above most of your summer action movies).

One interesting note is that the movie is set in the hill country of east Texas. But it was filmed in the mountains of North Carolina, which was very jarring for those of us very familiar with those mountains.

I very much enjoyed this movie. There were few surprises and very simplistic morals. But, hey, that's what you get with a kids movie. If you really want to see a good, easy, feel good movie about dogs, soldiers, or just kids, this is a great choice.

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