Director: Boaz Yakin
Stars: Josh Wiggins, Thomas Haden Church
2 (out of 5) Globes
Even before its credits, “Max” offers a title card explaining that dogs have played a part in war for at least a century. It’s as if the filmmakers are assuring us that, no, really, a movie about a marine dog is totally legit, and Hollywood isn’t scraping the bottom of the barrel to find something patriotic to peddle to the red state masses. Not that Hollywood makes many films about soldiers anyway, but the sheer weirdness of “Max” makes it far easier to deal with than blandly jingoistic fare like “Act of Valor.” If the movies must occasionally turn god-fearing and flag-waving, may more of them feature a Belgian Malinois busting an arms ring.
That is indeed the plot of “Max,” which starts with the mutt sniffing out terrorists in Kandahar before relocating to Texas (of course). Max is not just a marine dog but a marine dog with PTSD. The kindly, unbearably noble soldier who trained him dies in the opening minutes, leaving him a barking mess. His keeper’s family — notably his sarcastic (read: in need of reforming) younger brother Justin (Josh Wiggins) — winds up assuming care, forced to train him to be chill again, as if this were a family version of Samuel Fuller’s “White Dog.” But the lessons go both ways. Justin's a troubled kid, which in this film means he sells illegal copies of video games. Can Max nudge him into giving up the criminal (or criminal-ish) life, and maybe also get him to stop wearing jokey "Murica" tees?
Despite this set-up, “Max” is less a canine “American Sniper” than an ’80s boys adventure film, and even sometimes the BMX movie “Rad.” Like that era’s comedies, it features a dopey crime subplot, this one involving a former marine-turned-bad (Luke Kleintank) who’s trying to sell stolen weapons to a Mexican cartel. Justin unwittingly, and eventually stupidly, gets involved in that, as does his dad (Thomas Haden Church), who at one point goes to bust them by himself, unarmed, at night, in a remote part of town. Later it has three teenagers crash a meet-up between dangerous baddies with guns, armed only with bikes, a scary dog and no apparent plan.