dir Boaz Yakin
scr Boaz Yakin, Sheldon Lettich
prd Ken Blancato, Karen Rosenfelt
with Josh Wiggins, Thomas Haden Church, Lauren Graham, Luke Kleintank, Dejon LaQuake, Mia Xitlali, Robbie Amell, Jay Hernandez, Owen Harn, Joseph Julian Soria, Raymond W Beal, Edgar Arreola
release US 26.Jun.15, UK 7.Aug.15
15/US Warner 1h51
That darn dog: Church and Wiggins

graham amell hernandez
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Max Basically a souped-up Lassie movie, this teen adventure begins as a sentimental family drama before a thriller kicks into gear, with added rah-rah patriotism and the irresistible bond between a boy and his dog. Yes, this is shamelessly heart-tugging middlebrow entertainment. At least it's written, directed and acted with enough skill to hold the attention.

Serving as a Marine with his pal Tyler (Kleintank) in Afghanistan, Kyle (Amell) and his faithful weapons-sniffing dog Max are caught in an ambush, and Kyle is killed. Back in Texas, Kyle's parents Ray and Pam (Church and Graham) reluctantly adopt the now-disturbed Max, because the only person he seems to connect with is their troubled younger son Justin (Wiggins). They bond with the help of Carmen (Xitlali), the dog-whispering cousin of Justin's best pal Chuy (LaQuake). But Max is still wary of Tyler, and black market arms dealers are lurking in the woods.

What follows is an oddly perfunctory thriller that's far too violent for the film's family audience. Frankly, the drama surrounding Kyle's death and the journey to healing for his dog and his family are more than enough for a satisfying movie. So the chase scenes and life-threatening gunplay become distracting to everything that matters about this story, which makes the film's slushy final tribute to military dogs (accompanied by Blake Shelton's Forever Young) ring oddly hollow.

Before it goes off the rails, the actors create quite vivid characters and relationships, engaging in snarky comical banter with meaningful emotional edges. Wiggins is solid as the disconnected teen who can never live up to his wounded-veteran dad and heroic big brother. He's an angry kid, but we like him because Wiggins lets us see beneath his rage. Opposite him Church and Graham find moments of resonance, while Xitlali and LaQuake add some strong camaraderie. And then there's the freakishly well-trained Carlos as Max, the coolest pet ever.

Director Yakin shoots this in a skilfully anonymous style, relatively realistic but leaving any insight to a script that can't be bothered to dig deep, so it veers into a conspiracy instead. This is engaging and mindlessly entertaining, gratuitously indulging in all kinds of sappy emotional manipulation while making a pointed but almost subliminal statement about the arms industry. But there's never the slightest question that Justin will be able to resist Max. And neither will we.

cert 12 themes, violence, language 31.Jul.15

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