Max is one of many dogs who in Afghanistan, is entrusted with sniffing out weaponry and alerting the soldiers of any potential danger. However when Max’s guardian Kyle Wincott (Robbie Arnell) is killed in combat, the dog returns back to the US and is set to be put down, as he refuses to take orders from anybody else. That is until Kyle’s younger brother Justin (Josh Wiggins) agrees to take care of the animal, after much persuasion by his parents Ray (Thomas Haden Church) and Pamela (Lauren Graham). Reluctant at first to care for such an erratic dog, Justin soon realises that Max may be of far more help than he had initially envisaged – particularly when it comes to impressing his best friend’s cousin, Carmen (Mia Xitlali).
On the surface, Max is a unique endeavour for filmmaker Boaz Yakin, taking a theme that we’ve seen explored before on screen, but never from this particular angle. We’ve had plenty of war films, but rarely have we given a second’s thought to the animals caught up in the battles, also risking their life behind enemy lines. However we lose sight of that unique element almost instantly, as while undoubtedly an intriguing narrative device, it simply hasn’t got enough to sustain a feature length film. With a human being you can explore so many subtle aspects to their demeanour, whereas with a dog, all you can really do to evoke a sense of anxiety, is to make them bark – that’s ultimately the extent their struggles can be palpably identified. So in a bid to to fill time, we head down a monotonous, inane path concerning a generic arms deal, where Max is on hand to be a hero and save the day.
What transpires is an unashamedly mawkish production. The cover of Bob Dylan’s Forever Young during the closing credits, playing over the top of images of dogs at war is just too much. But at least the film is consistent in that regard, as from the very opening scene when Arnell pats Max on the head and says sincerely, ‘Atta boy Max. Atta boy’ before looking out pensively into the distance, we know exactly what we’re in line for – and it gets tedious and unbearable as we progress towards the finale.
But who this film is aimed at exactly remains to be seen. Considering the explosions, gun bucks to the face aplenty and the notion of death and dastardly, black market dealings – we move away from being the family adventure flick that this is seemingly intended to be. This could be a more simplistic picture in the Marley & Me mould, or even take inspiration from E.T. in depicting the friendship between Justin and Max – but instead we have a film that’s too puerile for teenagers and too grown up for anyone younger.