Will 'Max' Make Me Cry? The Canine-Centric Film Has All The Makings Of A Tearjerker
If you've made the pilgrimage to a movie theater this summer, there is a strong chance you've seen the weepy, heartrending trailer for Max , a boy-and-his-dog film that debuts June 26. The tears start flowing somewhere between the moment when the adorable pup jumps on the casket of his dead owner-mentor and when the young boy who inherits him comforts him after the trauma of a fireworks display. It's definitely marketed as a tearjerker, but will Max really make you cry?
Judging by the plot, all signs lead to yes. The trailer introduces Max, the titular Belgian Malinois companion to a Marine named Kyle (Robbie Amell). Kyle soon dies in an incident on the front lines, and a traumatized Max is sent home to Kyle's family, where he imprints on the younger brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins). Though Justin initially resists taking ownership of the dog, he forms a bond with Max and helps him overcome his canine PTSD and readjust to civilian life. Yet while the movie could a recipe for a "man's best friend" story like Marley and Me or Shiloh, it quickly takes a turn towards mystery when one of Kyle's old Marine mates shows up and brings drama with him. There are sure to be moments of sadness, but Max fits into too wide a range of genres to really conform to the heartwarming family story it initially appears.
And mostly, it's focusing on the dog, not the tears.The film borrows from real-life military tactics employed today, as the Belgian Malinois is a species particularly suited to the front lines and is the favorite of the Secret Service and narcotics investigators for its dogs' sense of smell. The film features intense scenes from Kyle's Marines service, a tendency towards military drama that is underlined by the accurate portrayal of the role of animals in the armed forces. According to the Washington Post, the dogs have a 270-degree field of vision (for reference, a human field of vision ranges between 160 and 208 degrees) and can run up to 30 miles per hour. Their natural skills and even temperament make them the preferred companions for the Marine Corps and Navy SEALS.
But Max does not dwell on the military story line. After Kyle's death, the main focus is Justin's coming of age, a tale that recalls films like Because of Winn-Dixie and Bridge to Terabithia. Here, the debt to the family film is clearer, though it's still far from a conventional tearjerker. Max's inspirations from canine family film and from bildungsroman manifest in different ways. Justin bootlegs video games — Variety glibly referred to this as "a new form of Hollywood shorthand for kids headed down the wrong path." His parents (Thomas Haden Church and Lauren Graham) hope that his bond with Max might set him straight. Really, though, the dog gives him an excuse to strike up a friendship with Carmen (Mia Xitlali), his best friend Chuy's cousin and a veritable dog expert.
Having established its mishmash of military and coming-of-age influences, Max throws a mystery into the mix: What is Kyle's former Marine comrade Tyler (Luke Kleintank) doing there?
Answer: He's selling weapons illegally to a Mexican gang with the aid of a corrupt cop. The trailer shows a few high-speed, exhilarating car chases, and Variety hints at some violent dog-on-dog action in its review. If anyone's keeping score, the genre count is up to five — the saga of the family dog; military drama; coming-of-age; mystery; and now fast-paced action flick. There is a whole host of influences in play that the two-minute teasers we've seen so far only hint at being present.
Max stars a charismatic group of Malinois, Rottweilers, and Chihuahuas to play the two-legged cast members' various companions, and it's certainly being marketed as a competitor to the other family-friendly films out this summer like Inside Out. While there are bound to be a few emotions in play, Max still looks to be a lot more than the doggy tearjerker audiences might be led to believe.
Image: Warner Bros. (2)