Entertainment

Movie review: ‘Max’ the hero dog fetches strong emotions

Josh Wiggins and Max, the military trained German shepherd, hit it off in Max.
Josh Wiggins and Max, the military trained German shepherd, hit it off in Max. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

What It’s About

Aimed directly at your heart, “Max” is that rare film that brings out honest emotions with its can’t-miss combination of a loyal, well-trained military dog and poignant family drama.

The story focuses on a heroic older brother, troubled young son and grieving parents, and how a service dog bonds with the Wincott family. The screenplay, co-written by Sheldon Lettich (“Bloodsport”) and Boaz Yakin (“Remember the Titans”), shows conflicts in war zones and at home.

Max is a German Shepherd traumatized in Afghanistan after losing his trainer, Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell). He is no longer of service to the military, so the heartbroken Wincotts bring him home. It’s only a matter of time before he’s an important part of the family, helping them to heal.

Justin (Josh Wiggins), who doesn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with his tough ex-Marine dad Ray (Thomas Haden Church), is responsible for the dog, and is helped by a new gal pal Carmen (Mia Xitlali), a cousin of his friend Chuy (Dejon LaQuake). The teens hang out during the summer, and are drawn into shady dealings with Chuy’s untrustworthy cousin Emilio. Justin discovers that with some digging, he might find out what really happened to his brother. The plot thickens as danger lurks, and it’s up to Max to save the day.

Performances

As the parents, TV favorites Thomas Haden Church (“Wings”) and Lauren Graham (“Gilmore Girls”) anchor the film. They’re such likable performers.

In only his second film, Josh Wiggins (“Hellion”) shows surprising poise and is a natural on screen. He works well with Max, and their relationship is believable. The other child actors are rooted in reality, too, and Xitlali is particularly impressive in her debut.

What Works

If you are familiar with the M.O. of “Lassie,” and his loyal buddy Timmy, this movie resembles that trajectory. Sure it’s schmaltzy, but we all kept coming back for more adventures. Max’s abilities are astonishing, no matter what you think of the predictable story.

The audience is coming to feel something, and “Max” delivers. Director Boaz Yakin knows how to get the most from an ensemble, as demonstrated in “Now You See Me” and “Remember the Titans.”

A definite crowd-pleaser, “Max” honors the brave four-legged soldiers called upon in harm’s way, and earns its stripes.

3 stars out of 4

Director: Boaz Yakin

Starring: Thomas Haden Church, Lauren Graham, Josh Wiggins, Robbie Amell

Rated: PG for action violence, peril, brief language and some thematic elements

Length: 1:51

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