Justin Wincott playing a video game at home.
As the film Max opens, we are shown how military dogs assist American Marines in their missions. Max is one of those dogs, assigned to Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell) a Marine platoon leader on assignment in Khandahar, Afghanistan. The scene then cuts to Angelina County, Texas where the rest of the Wincott family lives, Kyle’s ex-Marine father Ray (Thomas Haden Church), his mother Pamela (Laura Graham), and Kyle’s teenaged brother Justin (Josh Wiggins). The family dynamic is typical for a rural small town family. Ray and Justin do not get along that well. Ray wants Justin to be serious and work for him at his storage business, while Justin wants to play video games, ride his BMX, and have fun with his friends. Pamela is very religious and works to keep the family together. We also meet Justin’s friend Chuy, (Dijon LaQuake) full of comedic personality, and his visiting cousin Carmen (Mia Xitlali), kicked out of her home because she got a dog’s paw tattoo on her neck. Then tragedy strikes. The action returns to Afghanistan, where Kyle is killed in an ambush attack. Max is on patrol with him as usual, but he survives the bomb. Something seems a little strange about the attack although we are not quite sure what.
Ray Wincott wants Justin to take on more responsibility, like Kyle did.
Ray and Justin are in the middle of an argument when the Marine Corps service detachment shows up to inform the Wincotts of Kyle’s death. The family and community grieves, and at the funeral, there is a dramatic scene where Max is brought up the church aisle to lay beside the flag-draped coffin. We find out that Max is suffering from PTSD, and has been impossible to control. But because Justin is the closest person alive resembling Kyle, Max takes to him. Max’s handlers are thinking about putting him to sleep, but instead the Wincott family decides to adopt him. Ray feels that having the responsibility of Max will be good for Justin. At first Justin doesn’t know what to do, and isn’t happy about having the responsibility of dealing with a dog who has issues. Luckily for him, Carmen has had a lot of experience with training dogs, and even can guess what breed Max is (a Belgian Malinois). With Carmen’s help, Justin begins to learn how to control and work with Max. Gradually a bond develops between them. Carmen also helps Justin to heal as they begin to develop a relationship to the chagrin of Chuy.
Justin gives his friend Chuy a video game.
The plot thickens when one of Kyle’s fellow Marines, Tyler Harne (Luke Kleintank), returns to the Angelina area. He has been offered a job by Ray Wincott at his storage business. While Max has warmed to the Wincott family, when he sees Tyler, Max growls and barks. Tyler backs away but later tells Ray that Max had turned on Kyle at the end, which was one reason that he was killed. Justin begins to investigate on his own after Carmen tells him that there was no way a well trained dog would do that. Justin discovers that Tyler was not discharged after a normal tour of duty but instead for undisclosed administrative reasons. Now Josh believes that Tyler’s story was a lie. Soon the film is taken over by an illegal gunrunning plot that involves not only Tyler, but a local sheriff’s deputy (Owen Harn) and the Mexican cartel, represented by Emilio (Joseph Julian Soria) a relative of Chuy and Carmen. You can be sure there will be chase scenes with trucks, bikes, and dogs, gun violence, and fights between good and bad dogs as this so-called PG film escalates into a pretty unbelievable and violent finish.
Chuy, Carmen, Justin, and Max.
Max could have been a lot better film if it didn’t try to do too much. There was a good set up at the beginning: the family dynamic of the Wincotts versus that of Chuy’s family and their bad news uncle Emilio, chances to explore the interaction between the conservative, white community and the Mexican-Americans in this small Texas rural town, how BMX biking was a positive social activity for Justin, Chuy, Carmen and other teenagers in their community, and how the acquisition of Max would be a positive influence for Josh and his parents. Unfortunately this was soon abandoned for the gunrunning action/adventure subplot that seemed to bring the Afghanistan war back home to rural America, turning Justin, Chuy and Carmen into a warrior team on BMX bikes fighting a corrupt deputy sheriff, Tyler, and Emilio with the help of Max. The best performances were put in by the teens, with Mia Xitlali and Dejon LaQuake making things a lot more watchable with their constant bickering and witty lines. Josh Wiggins was pretty dour at home with his parents; you only got to see him act like a normal teenager when he was interacting with other teens. The film could have used a lot of more of that. There were some good dog stunts like you would expect, but it a was a real stretch for Max to suddenly become a super hero. Writer and director Boaz Yakim has Max saving the day for his new human masters he had barely gotten to know, while being constantly under the threat of death from not only the bad guys but even the good guys throughout the film. Isn’t it cats who are supposed to have nine lives? Sure this is just a story, but is this a realistic look at role of canine military dogs?
Max and Justin in the woods.
Justin works to repair his bicycle.
We see Josh Wiggins in his role as Justin Wincott wearing Cons black high top Chuck Taylor sneakers with grey shoelaces in many of his scenes. There are not a lot of close ups; probably the best two shots are when he is repairing his bicycle and when he gets into Max’s cage to comfort him during the Fourth of July fireworks. Luckily we have a couple of publicity stills showing Josh and Max, with Josh in a suit and a brand new pair of black low top chucks.
Justin starts to bond with Max by getting inside his cage.
Publicity stills of Josh Wiggins and Max.
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