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Remember when the commercials and trailers for Max started appearing? They appeared uplifting, with an undercoating of implausibility? I mean, it's a movie about a modern day Lassie of sorts, so…dogs and kids and cuteness. So, now that I've actually seen the movie, I'm blown away by what went on in the movie, and not in a good way.
The film was co-written by Sheldon Lettich (Bloodsport) and Boaz Yakin (Safe), the latter of whom directed. Max is a Belgian Malinois, raised and trained for military service by Kyle (Robbie Amell, The Duff). Kyle is in Afghanistan with Max and Kyle's neighborhood friend Tyler (Luke Kleintank, Dark House). During a routine mission Kyle is killed, leaving his mother (Lauren Graham, Gilmore Girls) and father (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways), and their son/Kyle's brother Justin (Josh Wiggins) to pick up the emotional pieces, including those of Max, who survived the attack but was brought home and is also coping with the trauma from the loss.
Now just at that level, with a family mourning the loss of their oldest son killed in war, having to care for said son's canine companion in the theatre should be enough. So let's throw in the fact that the father served in the military as a small emotional wrinkle. That should be OK. Hell, let's even introduce the fact that the youngest son portrays the stereotypical youngster, disenchanted with the country, made cynical by his older brother ‘abandoning' him to go fight a war. Those should be enough to carry a 90 to 100-minute movie where everyone, even down to the dog, reconciles with the loss, or the impacts of war on the fragile human and canine psyches.
Mild spoilering, so beware.
But no, what Max proceeds to do is inject an unnecessary conflict between two of its characters, with a subplot that is far more aspirational for the film than it has any right to be. It is convoluted and downright stupid, with unstated implications to gang battles and drug wars maybe? This subplot impacts the decisions of more vital characters in the film and thus, serves as a cinematic Ebola, infecting most anything it comes in contact with. As a minor tangent, aesthetically, who thinks that putting multiple scenes of dogs fighting into a film and reasonably thinks such a think
Return your eyes ye matey.
The performances are decent, adult-wise, Graham is fine albeit underused, and Haden Church was fun to watch, and is quietly improving his range as an actor. Wiggins carries the bulk of the film well, and playing against Dejon LeQuake and Mia Xitlali (the former plays Justin's friend Chuy and Chuy's cousin/Justin's love interest Carmen), the three work well and are keenly aware of their roles. The ensemble is fine, the story considerably less so.
If this was more sensationalist for the sake of the exercise, then maybe I could have enjoyed Max a little bit more. But for whatever reason, Yakin preferred to exercise flash over substance, which was not only the right decision, but said flash was a bizarre decision to even consider in the first place. Jamie Farr playing the dog would have made for a better movie than what the actual movie wound up being.The Blu-ray:
Warner gives Max a 2.40:1 widescreen presentation that looks excellent. Images are free of compression artifacts, and possess a above average amount of image detail in the foreground and background, with the latter getting a chance to show off the greens of the Texas (but really North Carolina) backdrop. The first act war sequences include the dirt and sand browns and colors are reproduced faithfully, as one would expect from a film shot on digital. There were no bouts of banding or haloing that I spotted, and Warner has done nice by the production.The Sound:
A DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless surround track that does more work than I expected it to. The war sequences have a pleasantly surprising dynamic range, as do the cross-country/BMX sequences that Justin and friends have. The dialogue is strong in the front of the soundstage, channel panning is present and sounds effective, plus there were some directional effects which sound nice also. The subwoofer provides a nice emphasis in the low-end and all in all, Warner does just as nicely as the transfer.Extras:
Two extras, quick and brief. The first is "Working with Max" (4:49), which goes into the number of dogs used in the film and the cast's thoughts on working with them, and "Hero Dogs" (7:43) looks at the history of military dogs, and discusses their impact and the psychological effects of war of them. This piece is a little more fascinating, but I'd recommend watching either (or both) before the movie. Copies of the movie are available on a standard definition disc and via the digital platform of your preference, if you prefer Ultraviolet.Final Thoughts:
At the basic story, Max has enough goodwill built in automatically the viewer can't help but give it a chance. Then you start watching it, and you start wondering when they actually do anything with it, and then around the 45-minute mark, your jaw drops because of the course the film decides to not only seek out, but follow through with. The last hour is a mix of shock, surprise and unease, usurping any thoughts you had about it coming into it. The disc is fine technically and is superficial on the bonus materials side. Please don't watch this.