2015, PG, 111 min. Directed by Boaz Yakin. Starring Thomas Haden Church, Lauren Graham, Josh Wiggins, Luke Kleintank, Dejon LaQuake, Mia Xitlali, Robbie Amell.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., July 3, 2015
What the hell happened to Boaz Yakin? The writer/director dropped his debut feature, Fresh, back in 1994, an original and lyrical take on urban youth. Since then, he has mostly been a Hollywood writer-for-hire, working on screenplays from Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights to the magician/bank heist curio Now You See Me. He had a big commercial success with the Denzel Washington football integration film Remember the Titans in 2000, but also directed the forgettable Uptown Girls and A Price Above Rubies. Yakin has never quite delivered on his first film’s potential.
And now we have Max, Yakin’s latest offering, to chart on the filmmaker’s trajectory. Max is an American military dog who is part of a squad in Afghanistan, searching for weapons caches. When a sketchy snafu gets Max’s handler Kyle (Amell) killed, Max gets sent back stateside, unable to continue his service due to PTSD. In order to avoid being put down, he is taken in by Kyle’s family, consisting of stoic ex-Marine Ray (Haden Church), his wife Pamela (Graham, wasted in the role), and Kyle’s younger brother Justin (Wiggins, last seen in local filmmaker Kat Candler’s Hellion). Max takes a shine to Justin, because of smells or something ill-defined, and the two begin to bond, Max running through the bike trails with Justin on his BMX, and hanging with Justin’s comedic foil Chuy (LaQuake) and Carmen (Xitlali), Chuy’s cousin and Justin’s puppy love, who has a neck tattoo of a paw, so you know she’s legit. Justin’s family is still grieving over Kyle’s death, though that’s mostly shown in scenes of Pamela wringing her hands (when she’s not cooking or doing dishes) and Ray berating Justin for pretty much just existing as a teenager (seriously, Haden Church’s performance is so humorless and dour, it transforms into full-blown parody).
When Kyle’s childhood friend and fellow soldier Tyler (Kleintank) shows up, mysteriously discharged and looking for work in Ray’s public-storage business, Max goes ballistic. Did Tyler have something to do with Kyle’s death in Afghanistan? Most assuredly. Will three kids on dirt bikes and a dog thwart a transcontinental gun-running operation that involves the Mexican cartel? Oh, you better believe it. Max posits itself as a tribute to military service dogs and their handlers (the closing credits offer up a photographic history of their service), but it’s a mawkish exercise in military agitprop mixed with a contrived caper subplot that more than strains movie-logic credibility, inadvertently trivializing what it tries to extol. This dog won’t hunt.