The set-up is as agreeable as can be: Justin, a sullen teen (Josh Wiggins, whose entire performance consists of side-eye to the point of disappearing pupils), inherits the titular dog, a Belgian Malinois trained by the military for missions in Afghanistan, after his older brother (Robbie Amell) perishes in battle. Justin’s folks, played by the unfortunately straight-faced Lauren Graham and Thomas Haden Church, have their own issues with Justin, particularly Dad, who seems to have preferred his older offspring’s heroic brio. But things get hairy once the late soldier’s best pal (Luke Kleintank) turns up in town, and subsequently makes Max mad.
So you get a pretty standard-fare, harmless boy-meets-animal bonding flick…for about 15 minutes. Beyond that, the movie incredulously introduces villains (some of whom may as well be in Breaking Baddies) as vigorously as the clichés; in fact, the movie is so unsubtle, Justin even calls them “bad guys” outright. Discovering that one of the film’s writers hails from the labyrinthine, thoughtful world of (ahem) Jean-Claude van Damme revenge pics, you get a much clearer sense of where this feature’s priorities lie, and the movie is downright laughable when it isn’t merely unpleasant. (In the credibility-stretching universe here, the Marines (!) dole out classified info to teenagers…just because.)
Here you will find no truly honest emotions, just trumped-up movie ones—Trevor Rabin’s bleating, overbearing score never lets you forget it—and the saddest part is how the filmmakers assume that the innate love for our furry friends will automatically distract from the fact that it is an unredeeming, routine thriller. There’s just no delicate way to put it: Max is a real dog. D