MAX, the new family adventure from MGM and Producer Karen Rosenfelt (the Twilight saga, Alvin and the Chipmunks), is a lot more than one of those sugary, sappy, and ultimately sad “boy and his dog” stories that leave buckets of tears for movie theater workers to mop up along with spilled drinks and popcorn after the show. While all the basics are there; a rebellious teen boy, a dog in need of rescue, and an apparently squeaky-clean family where Mom chastises son Justin (Josh Wiggins) for cussing when he talks about his “freaking” video game (the opening sequences reminded me of one of those too-preachy “faith-based” films), the pot gets stirred early and often, and what comes out is a surprisingly suspenseful and engaging adventure.
For starters, we spend time in Afghanistan with Justin’s older brother Kyle, a straight-as-an-arrow Marine who handles Max, a military dog used as a scout and searcher by Kyle’s platoon. The action is toned down just enough to be okay for family viewing, but still intense, and besides tragedy, we get a whiff of a simmering, smelly scandal that will linger like skunk smell as the story unfolds.
Then there’s Justin’s friends, his annoying best buddy Chuy (Dejon LaQuake) and Chuy’s cousin, tomboy-in-a-foxy-body Carmen (Mia Xitlali). While you wish Chuy would disappear every time he opens his mouth, Carmen is sharp, fun, and feisty, a red-hot chili pepper that spices up the entire movie, not to mention Justin’s life. Throw in Thomas Haden Church (who seems to get better with age) as Justin’s all-Marine dad, Luke Kleintank as Kyle’s childhood friend turned Marine sidekick, and a bunch of real badass baddies, and it makes for quite a mix.
And all this is stirred and strained by Max, the irrepressible Belgian Malinois (an animal actor named Carlos in the credits), who uses his grit, courage, training, and even charm, to bring out the best in the good guys and the worst in the bad ones.
So once you’ve dutifully trucked the family in to see Jurassic World and been once again wowed by the wild originality and profoundness of Pixar’s Inside Out, don’t neglect to head to this show as well, a surprisingly sumptuous meal to go with your popcorn and soda–and maybe a few tears too.