Starring: Thomas Haden Church, Josh Wiggins, Luke Kleintank
Director: Boaz Yakin
Screenplay: Boaz Yakin, Sheldon Lettich
Adventure/Family, Rated: PG
Running Time: 111 minutes
Release Date: June 26, 2015
It looks like we’re reviewing the prequel to Mad Max – the story of his dog.
Greg, are you mad? Or are you just dog-tired? Let’s recap.
We’re introduced to the Wincott family. Mother Pamela (Lauren Graham) is Skyping with her elder son Kyle (Robbie Amell) who is a soldier and a dog handler in Afghanistan. Father Ray (Thomas Haden Church) is harping on younger son Justin (Josh Wiggins) who would rather play a videogame than talk to his big brother by Skype. Pamela barely has time to say goodbye when Kyle is called away on a mission.
Kyle leads his men, and his dog Max (Max), into an Afghan battlefield. A suicide bomber sets off an explosion near Max, and when Kyle movies in to help, another American soldier named Tyler (Luke Kleintank) shoots and kills Kyle. Max returns to the U.S. with PTSD and is adopted by the Wincott family. Justin is charged with caring for Max. Meanwhile, Tyler is hired by Ray to run the family’s storage unit business. Max doesn’t like Tyler and alerts Justin to Tyler’s involvement in shady arms-dealings. Soon Max, Ray, and Justin find their lives are all in danger.
Scott, i’m a sucker for any story about a dog. Dogs are natural heroes – loyal, honest, dedicated and full of unconditional love. In Max we have a nice buddy story about a boy and his dog. Both of whom undergo a profound transformation.
Justin doesn’t have much interest in anything outside video games. But when a pretty girl named Carmen (Mia Xitlali) takes an interest in Max, Justin starts to come around. The two of them start to retrain Max and help him overcome his PTSD. Max begins to trust Justin and ultimately redeems himself by saving Justin and his father Ray from the bad guys.
Greg, I’m right with you on good dog stories. Going into this movie, I was convinced we’d see a story about how a dog helps a human being overcome his or her demons. But what I got was much more. As you point out, this is a movie about a dog and a boy who are both damaged and who both help each other in healing and growing. It never occurred to me that a dog protagonist could undergo a heroic transformation, but Max does just that. Justin helps Max overcome his PTSD, and Max helps Justin become a responsible adult.
So we do have a unique inter-species buddy duo involving a human and a canine. And it works on both an emotional level and on a good storytelling level, too. Good buddy stories do involve two people helping each other become better individuals, and that’s exactly what we get here. I once knew a dog that had PTSD (not from war but from an abusive owner) and a good friend of mine helped the animal recover. So there is a realism in Max that I appreciate. The movie is predictable in some ways but it is nevertheless effective in tugging at our heartstrings and showing good characters grow in inspiring ways.
You bring up a good point, Scott. The movie isn’t just predictable, but it is also overly simplistic. With a PG rating, it is aimed at the family audience and there isn’t much depth to these characters. A certain bicycle scene reminded me of ET: The Extraterrestrial. The audience for this movie is young people, and so a young person (and his dog) must save the day. The bad guys aren’t complex in any way and are simply bad without explanation. In our new book Reel Heroes & Villains we discuss this sort of mindless villain as a classic “monster” type. They’re just bad as bad can be.
Justin is accompanied by several great supporting characters. We’ve already discussed Carmen, who is the woman who makes her man better. Her brother Chuy is a sort of sidekick to Justin. He’s a rather dim-witted good kid who is mixed up with the wrong people. Justin has good parental units and an absent older brother (who casts a long shadow that Justin feels he must live in).
You’re right about the supporting cast, Greg. I’d like to point out Hollywood’s unfavorable and biased treatment of dog characters. There are no fellow canines to help out poor Max, nor is he given any canine love interest. In contrast, Justin gets human help and a cute girl to assist him. All kidding aside, the supporting characters do their job well. I found Tyler to be a more interesting villain than you did, Greg. Tyler has this boy-next-door charm and good looks that deceives everyone except Max. I wouldn’t call Tyler a mindless villain but rather a dangerous and deceptive one.
Fair enough. I enjoyed Max very much. It follows in the footsteps (paw-prints?) of other great canine heroes like Run Joe Run from 1970s Saturday morning TV, Lassie, and Benjie. But it’s still a rather simplistic story with predictable story elements. I give Max 3 out of 5 Reels.
All the elements of a true hero are realized as Max starts out a good dog, falls into a deep hurt, and recovers – making him a redeemed hero. Justin overcomes his missing inner quality of apathy and learns to respect himself and his father. It’s a great buddy story with both heroes overcoming their demons. I give our heroes 4 out of 5 Heroes.
The supporting cast was good. We have the girlfriend Carmen and her brother Chuy, deceptive villain Tyler, and supportive parents Pamela and Ray. There were even some additional villains in the form of the bad-apple sheriff and Mexican gun runner. Not to mention a gaggle of bicycle riding buddies for Justin and Chuy to hang out with. Overall a pretty good selection of secondary characters which I give 4 out of 5 Cast points.
Max is a fun movie about a teenage boy and a dog who are both hurting and who both help each other heal and grow. Max is a feel-good movie although it does have its dark moments featuring several menacing human villains to oppose Justin and two ferocious doggy-foes to battle Max. How they filmed the many fight scenes involving those two dogs is beyond me — those stunt-dogs really earned their kibble. Overall, I enjoyed Max and give it 3 Reels out of 5.
The buddy hero story between a boy and his dog was moving and effectively portrayed. Yes, much of the screenplay is predictable but the bottom line is that it warmed my heart. We see a dog become heroically transformed by loving human, and a human become transformed by a loving dog. That’s about as good as it gets for a dog film, so I give these buddy heroes a solid 3 Heroes out of 5.
The supporting cast was commendable. All the members of the Wincott family delivered fine performances, including the character of Kyle whom we grow to love despite his limited screen time. I found Chuy to be an annoying character but his smart, feisty cousin Carmen more than made up for Chuy’s vapid immaturity. The villain Tyler and his doggy minions were formidable foes, too. Overall, the cast deserves a laudable rating of 3 out of 5.