By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - This Max may not be mad, but there's plenty of fury on his road as well.
Max, dedicated to the valiant sacrifices and contributions of military dogs, is a family drama about a trained service dog -- a Belgian Malinois -- helping United States Marines in Afghanistan, where they are deployed and where Max serves heroically, helping his handler, Kyle Wincott, played by Robbie Arnell, detect hidden weapon stockpiles.
But Kyle is killed during an ambush and Max is traumatized.
Afflicted with a canine version of post-traumatic stress syndrome, Max returns home and makes the transition from military to domestic life, but behaves so erratically, he's in danger of being pout down by the military.
That's when Kyle's grieving family steps in and adopts Max.
Josh Wiggins plays Justin Wincott, Kyle's sullen teenage brother, who's put in charge of the dog by his grieving parents, played by Thomas Haden Church and Lauren Graham.
Luke Kleintank plays Tyler, a hometown-buddy marine of Kyle's who was with him when he died.
When he shows up on the Wincott's Texas doorstep, sporting similar wounds to those of Kyle's dad, who is also an ex-marine, Kyle's parents welcome him with open arms as someone from their beloved late son's life even though Max growls at him as if sensing that he is up to no good.
Director Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans, Fresh, A Price Above Rubies, Safe), who co-wrote the based-on-real-events script with Vietnam veteran Sheldon Lettich, perhaps includes a bit more armed conflict than is necessary or advisable in a family film, but the busy plotline keeps us from being too bothered by this, even though there are times when the narrative – especially the illegal gun ring subplot that dominates the late going -- feels too much like a generic episode of decades-past television's Lassie or Rin Tin Tin.
There's plenty of time devoted to Justin's coming of age and substantial dog-in-jeopardy tear-jerking, much of which we ignore or fight off. But even though the animal is occasionally presented as nothing less than superheroic (in the comic book sense) and supernaturally resourceful, dog lovers – especially young dog lovers -- will respond.
So we'll unleash 2-1/2 stars out of 4. Max is a passable variation on the boy-and-his-pooch flick that fervent fans of four-footed fighters just might find fetching.
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