‘Max’ may be the dog of a movie some think it is

Max and Josh Wiggins get to know one another in 'Max'
Max and Josh Wiggins get to know one another in ‘Max’

Prior to the Second Gulf War we heard all about WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction).  Max is a movie about MWDs (Military Working Dogs), or at least one MWD in particular.  The titular MWD is a Belgian Malinois whose handler is a third-generation Marine named “Kyle Wincott” (Amell).  He is following in the footsteps of his father “Ray” (Haden Church) who was injured during his military service.  He now runs a storage locker facility.  His wife “Pamela” (Graham) is in real-estate and Kyle’s younger brother “Justin” doesn’t really give a damn about anything except the computer games he hacks for money.

Kyle stays in touch with his parents via a Skype-like chat from his post in Afghanistan where he and Max walk point for his unit during patrols.  His long-time friend “Tyler Harne” (Kleintank) is in the same unit.  After a successful mission where they discover a large cache of weapons and other munitions, they are questioned by investigators looking into reports of captured weapons going missing.  On the very next mission something goes awry and Kyle is killed.

Max was injured in the incident and he refuses to leave Kyle’s coffin at the funeral (an idea lifted from the real-life story of Navy SEAL John Tumlinson).  He is suffering from PTSD and since he won’t work with any other military handler, he is scheduled to be put down.  The Wincott family won’t allow this and since Max seems to tolerate Justin for some unexplained reason (smell, maybe?), they take Max in.  Max is soon running after Justin as he rides his BMX bike on trails with his friends “Chuy” (LaQuake) and Chuy’s cousin “Carmen” (Xitali) who is an expert on dogs.

Max the military working dog at his handler's funeral in 'Max'
Max the military working dog at his handler’s funeral in ‘Max’

Tyler returns home before too much time has passed and takes a job at Ray’s storage facility.  But his interests lay elsewhere and involve “Deputy Stack” (Harn) and “Emilio” (Julian Soria).  It is Emilio who has been paying Justin to crack and copy computer games.  The three are involved in something shady and it’s up to three teens and one military working dog to put things right.

One has to wonder what’s happened to writer/director Boaz Yakin.  He hasn’t directed a good film since 2000’s Remember the Titans and his last strong effort as a screenwriter was 1994’s Fresh.  Here we get a story that’s difficult to find even remotely believable, a flag-waving tone that needs to be dialed back and it is tough to really root for anyone except Max.  Thomas Haden Church, who I normally enjoy watching on screen isn’t awful but he isn’t great either.  The rest of the cast seems to be there solely for the check.  Hopefully Mr. Yakin will return to his fine form soon.

What might have helped is a look into how the military began dealing with PTSD among its military working dogs within just the last five years.  Some estimate that more than 5% of MWDs wind up suffering from this disease and most cannot return to front lines.  Considering how invaluable they are in doing some of the most dangerous work on the battlefield these days, their losses are sorely felt.

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