THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Max is one of those movies where you step back and say, What were they thinking? It starts off as a perfectly sweet and touching family film before making an abrupt left turn into something much darker and less appropriate for young children. When you realize that the movie is sticking with its choice to veer away from what was working so well, the feeling is one of disappointment and frustration. Max comes to DVD and Blu-Ray combo pack on October 27.
This is the story of a German Shepard named Max, who works helping U.S. Marines in Afghanistan. When his trainer, Kyle (Robbie Amell), is killed in combat, Max is sent home. Now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he's scheduled to be put down because of his aggressive, unpredictable behavior. Then Kyle's family steps in. Little brother Justin (Josh Wiggins) is the only person Max is calm around. Parents Ray (Thomas Haden Church) and Pamela (Lauren Graham) want to keep the dog, because he represents a connection to their late son. Justin therefore begins the process of helping Max to heal.
This is all very affecting. In its first hour, Max focuses on the bond Justin develops with the dog. He regrets not spending more time with Kyle while he was alive, so helping Max is a form of therapy for both of them. You can't help but be touched by the human/animal interactions as the two struggle to deal with their mutual loss. Perhaps most interesting is that the film addresses PTSD in animals who serve in combat. It's not a subject most people would think about, but surely a dog caught in that situation would experience lingering emotional effects. It's a pretty special topic for a movie to cover.
And that's why the second hour is so maddening. Rather than following through on its original premise, the film – directed and co-written by Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans) - makes a dramatic about-face. It turns out that one of Kyle's fellow soldiers, Tyler (Luke Kleintank), stole some weapons that were liberated during his mission in Afghanistan. He's now trying to sell them to Mexican arms dealers. Justin stumbles onto his plan, so Tyler needs to ensure his silence, however possible. What started as a warm-hearted family film suddenly turns into an action picture in which a bunch of bad guys chase a teenage boy, his friends, and his dog through the woods with guns. There's shooting, and violence, and Max fighting a couple of pit bulls.
Max ends with a thoroughly preposterous climax that has its characters dodging bullets and explosives, a child in danger of being murdered, and a shockingly nasty death for one bad guy. Then it goes for a sentimental wrap-up that, by now, is totally unearned.
So what were they thinking? Who knows? Hollywood history is filled with box office hits that told nice stories about people and animals. The action angle was in no way necessary. Max tries to be two separate, incompatible things simultaneously, and ends up negating its own good points. Parents are strongly advised to use caution.
( 1/2 out of four)
Max hits DVD and Blu-Ray combo pack on October 27. There are two bonus features, collectively totaling about eleven minutes.
“Working With Max” looks at the different dogs that were used to play the titular character. One was used for performance, one for running, one for stunts that required special training, etc. The actors also appear in short interview clips to talk about working with the animals.
“Hero Dogs,” meanwhile, looks at real military-trained K9s and the people who train them. While only about seven minutes long, the piece nevertheless gives you some understanding of the important role canines have played in the military over the decades, as well as some of the tasks they are charged with. Also included here is footage of dogs being trained to sniff out bombs.
Both bonus features are rather interesting, as they focus on the portion of the movie that works. Picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are very good.
Max is rated PG-13 for action violence, peril, brief language and some thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.
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