This is a somewhat recent movie, so warning, spoilers ahead.
Max opens with a slice of life of a Marine in Afghanistan. Kyle, Max’s person, and a group of soldiers search a town for a hidden weapons cache. Max finds it and everyone’s super happy.
The scene cuts to Loralie Gilmore, I know she has a real name, but I don’t feel like looking it up right now, talking in the fakest southern accent imaginable on the clearest computer screen ever. Seriously, it’s like Kyle is in the room with her. Grouchy grandma, oh wait, that’s supposed to be her husband. Sure. Is behind her, fixing a perpetually broken sink, and mopey teen is in the living room playing video games. Kyle recaps Max’s heroic feat, Mrs. Gilmore declares “Ya’ll botha desurve a mehdle or somethin.”
Why? Seriously, why? Why is hollywood incapable of realizing that not everyone with a southern accent talks like a caricature? Agh! I’m going to have to sit through an entire MOVIE of this.
Oh, wait, they’re in Texas. Maybe…nope, still annoying, still fake. Also, why is she the only one with an accent? Literally no one else in the movie had one?
Anyway, Kyle is interrupted by another soldier saying that the brass needs to talk to him right now. Turns out, some of the weapons they found are missing. It’s been going on for awhile. Kyle swears he just handles the dog and is excused from the room. On the way out he confronts his best friend from childhood, Tyler, and says he didn’t know what he was doing before, but he knows now and he can’t cover for him. Come clean, or he will.
That night, Kyle is sleeping, Tyler is ominously getting ready for something, and Max is watching. Always watching.
The next day, things go south when Tyler insists they ignore Max’s signal to wait, which by the way looks no different than his all clear signal. Thank goodness Kyle is there to interpret. Kyle agrees and sends Max forward for some reason when boom, bang, explosions. Kyle rushes into the fray, Tyler ducks behind a rock. The smoke clears and Kyle’s been shot and Max is going nuts. Tyler’s about to shoot Max when other soldiers come in and subdue the dog.
Cut to pouty teenager, apparently named Justin, pirating a video game. He gives the copy to his friend Chuy, and says he two-hundred for it. Grumpy Dad rounds the corner and Chuy takes off. Grumpy dad chastises mopey kid for not coming to work this morning, this incredibly awkward and poorly acted exchange is blessedly cut short when soldiers come to the door bearing bad news.
At the funeral, a group of marines come about midway through the service, and because being late isn’t bad enough, walk right up to the front row and apologize to Mrs. Gilmore for being late. Max is barking and going nuts and eventually gets free so he can curl up beside the coffin. I know it’s supposed to be a touching moment, but when Mrs. Gilmore nods at the paster, indicating he can continue the service, all I can think of is how rude it was that they literally just interrupted a funeral! Wait until the part where everyone is lining up to pay their respects like a normal person. I can see the dog getting loose from he back of the church, but what were they doing walking up to the front like that?
To make matters worse, while the family is trying to mourn, Max is resisting leaving the coffin. He’s barking and growling, but as he passes Justin, he grows strangely calm.
“Who are you?” A true idiot of a marine asks in a slightly amazed voice.
Yes, who could the child standing between Kyle’s parents be?
“Our son?” Mrs. Gilmore asks, gradually dropping the accent as the movie progresses.
“He must be able to sense it. Can you help us get him in the cage? I mean, I know it’s your brother’s funeral and everything, but it’ll just take a minute.”
So the family leaves the casket to walk the dog until he gets to his cage.
Look, I’m not saying the dog shouldn’t have come to the funeral, but why did they try to make him leave while everyone was still milling around? Like, it’s bad enough they got there late and disrupted the entire funeral once, can’t they just wait? Maybe the family wanted a minute? My god, have some respect.I mean, this family has been through enough. Do they really have to watch their sons dog cry and fight as he wrestled into a cage and muzzled?
The scene shifts to Justin pirating another game, but his heart just isn’t into it, so he goes to explore his brother’s room. His dad interrupts with a speech about how Justin has so much to learn from his brother about “being a man.” The two get into an argument, and my hatred for grumpy dad increases, because seriously, your son is allowed to mourn to. If you can’t manage to say something comforting, shut up.
Their argument is interrupted by Mrs. Gilmore telling them that “they’re going to kill Max.” Again, WHY would they even tell the family that right now? There son just died! It’s like the screen writers are trying to make this movie about mourning and moving on, only they’ve forgotten that death is something that needs to be mourned and moved on from.
Despite the dog being dangerous and unstable, the family gets approval to take him home. “Kyle’s gone,” grumpy dad snaps when Justin points out that he doesn’t want to do this. “This is your dog now.”
Okay, but maybe he doesn’t want a dog. Maybe he doesn’t want HIS BROTHER’S dog. Even ignoring the fact that it’s a huge, unstable dog with flashing teeth that they have to keep chained up in the backyard so he doesn’t hurt anyone and that’s a hell of a lot of responsibility to lay at the feet of a child, there’s an emotional component there, a living, breathing reminder that this dog is somewhat nice around you because it basically thinks he’s his dead brother. Or senses something of his dead brother in him, or I don’t know. Dead brother. Like, it’s a lot. And I’m not saying he shouldn’t keep the dog, but it’s really disturbing to me that Justin doesn’t have a voice in this. That his grief and his feelings aren’t respected.
Also, not cool having your dog chained up in the front yard in the heat of a Texas summer. No.
The next day, Justin goes off with his BMXing group of friends and meets Chuy’s cousin, Carmen. She got kicked out of her house because she got a tattoo. She’s not impressed with anyone. She has a snarky answer for everything. And she’s a dog training expert. She’s also really hung up on respect. Respect your dad, don’t let him disrespect me, respect Max. It’s like her buzz word. I want to like her as a character because given proper development, she could be interesting, but she’s just this over the top caricature. I don’t know that it’s her fault though? It may just be that she’s the only character that has a laugh track. Every time she says anything, there’s a group of boys in the background going “ooh! Dang!”
Cue dog training montage. Max makes progress, yay! As a thank you, Mrs. Gilmore invites Carmen to THE most awkward family dinner ever. First Mrs. Gilmore cries because she overcooked the food because she was distracted thinking about Kyle, then when Carmen reveals she knows so much about dogs because her father and brother trains pitfalls, Grumpy Dad goes “to fight?” “Um, no, jerk. He rescues them.”
I feel so bad for her character. She just keeps being put in SUPER awkward situation after situation.
Also, commentary on family dynamic. The parents feel like they should be set in the fifties. Maybe sixties. Like maybe they’re the generation that raised Kitty and Red Foreman. But the kids are “modern” only it’s actually like they’re an old person’s idea of what kids are like these days. All sulky and disrespectful and pirating video games on giant screens with complex codes and numbers flashing by. Carmen is your modern girl that doesn’t need anyone’s approval but her own, tough as nails, tons of attitude who by the second act of the movie is following Justin’s lead and wearing dresses and makeup.
Anyway, Tyler randomly shows up. Without calling. After dark. In the middle of dinner, to pay his respects and asks “I’m sorry, who are you?” to Carmen when she asks a really logical question about him being discharged. Does no one have manners? Max goes nuts and lunges at him. “Dogs are pretty good judges of character,” Carmen points out later, just in case we didn’t get the piling heaps of hints that maybe Tyler is a bad guy.
The next day, Justin and Max go on a bike ride, seeming to be relaxed and happy, and settled in a routine. They head to their biker friends and Justin flirts with Carmen and shows off what an awesome bike rider he is.
Their happy mood is dashed when they get home to find a huge metal cage in the middle of their yard.
“Your father doesn’t want to argue about it,” Mrs. Gilmore says as she scrubs dishes.
Why would anyone argue about putting a dog in a metal box in the middle of a sun filled yard in the heat of a Texas summer. What is wrong with these people?
The scene shifts to a Fourth of July Parade. The parents are having a moment of quiet grieving together while Justin realizes that maybe the dog that has PTSD and can’t stand the sound of explosions or gun shots may have a reaction to fireworks and rushes home. In a truly touching moment, he climbs in the cage with Max and there’s this sense that they are there for each other. Which is good. Because Justin’s parents sure never stopped to think that maybe all the military pride stuff might make their other son think about his dead brother.
I think this is one of those thinks that bothers me because I’m a parent. I could have enjoyed this movie so much more pre-Bella, but now that I’ve had her, I have to look at things from a parent’s perspective, and I just can’t help being mad at them. I can’t imagine the grief they’re going through, I honestly can’t. It’s too terrible to think about. But it’s like the narrative never even acknowledges that Justin might feel it to beyond a passing moment of sadness when someone mentions his brother. Actual grief. Like, it would be okay if at any point in the movie the adults acknowledged “we haven’t really been there for you, I’m sorry,” but they don’t. And the narrative treats that like nothing odd happened.
The scene shifts to Tyler who is now working for Grumpy Dad. Grumpy dad listens to Tyler and has a more real conversation with him inside five minutes than he’s had with his son the entire movie. It’s because they’re both real men.
Tyler implies that Kyle died because of Max, so in a truly ridiculous move, Grumpy Dad goes home and tries to kill Max. To his credit, he tries to take him somewhere else first, but when Max doesn’t comply, he pulls out his gun and gets ready to shoot.
“Dad? What are you doing.” Justin demands.
Right. Because it’s totally cool to shoot the dog your son has bonded with as long as he’s INSIDE the house. The dog that senses something of his brother in him, his dead brother. The dog he’s been responsible for and worked hard to train.
“It’s his fault,” the dad explains. And I get its grief, I do. But…
Justin talks him down, pointing out that Kyle would never put people in danger by working with an unstable dog (I mean, YOU would totally put your family, your son, and your neighbors in danger by bringing a dog you KNOW is unstable to our house than not sticking around for five minutes to make sure your chain can hold when Max lunges once (it didn’t, for the record)) But KYLE would never do that.”
Dad relents with…and here’s the thing I can’t forgive him for “If he messes up ONCE, he’s gone.”
YOUR SON JUST LOST HIS BROTHER. This is ALL he has left of him and he didn’t even WANT the dog! And now you’re going to put THAT kind of pressure on him! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!
Anyway, Justin knows something is fishy about Tyler’s story, so he seeks out the funeral interrupter and asks for the scoop. Tyler was discharged by the administration, not because of a medical issue though, he’ll look into it. (Aren’t these records supposed to be private?) And he gives Justin a classified DVD to watch.
Justin takes the DVD to Carmen, figuring it’s dog training tips from the army or something, and instead is treated to a montage of amazingly filmed footage between his brother and Max, from puppyhood to adulthood. It’s ridiculously gorgeous and sentimental, and Justine wasn’t the only one getting weepy during it.
BTW, cue another super awkward situation for Carmen.
Then Emilio shows up and ruins the moment by demanding more pirated video games. He insults Carmen, basically implies that it’s a good thing Kyle is dead, and takes a phone call from…Tyler.
Justin demands his money up front, and as soon as Emilio drives away, uses the money to give Max a scent to follow. They ride through the forest and find Emilio, Tyler, a Deputy, and two members of a Mexican drug Cartel talking about a weapons exchange. Tyler is selling weapons across the border. Color me surprised.
Two dobermans catch on to the fact that they have company and chase Max and Justin through the woods. Max leads the dogs away from Justin. Justin crashes his bike and leaves it behind, getting to the highway with Max and catching a ride to the vets office to treat Max’s bite wounds. When he gets home, the police are waiting to take Max away for biting that deputy. Justin starts to object, but Kyle takes him to the side and after an actually deeply interesting exchange that implies that if Justin doesn’t keep his mouth shut his whole family is going to die.
I actually liked the dynamic they had between Justin and Tyler. There was a bit of the cliche “you’re just like me,” but more than that, there was a sense of fear. This is a kid. He’s what, nineteen? And he’s in way over his head with scary people who will kill entire families to get what they want. What he’s saying to Justine isn’t from a place of being evil, it’s from a place of fear. And it’s an interesting departure from his role in the movie so far as the cartoonish villain trying to kill the dog before it can “tell” on him. I wish they’d approached it like this from the get go.
They take Max away to euthanize him, but he escapes once he gets to the pound. Meanwhile, Grumpy dad catches on that something is amiss with Kyle when he catches Kyle and the Deputy taking a bunch of guns out of a storage unit. Dad is kidnapped, but manages to call home and tell his wife “I’m hanging out at the hunting cabin, don’t worry.”
“We have a hunting cabin?” Justin demands.
“No. We do not have a hunting cabin,” Mrs. Gilmore explains.
Cue a wild and crazy rescue mission with Max, Carmen, Chuy, and most importantly Grumpy Dad and Justin working together. Mrs. Gilmore gets a shining moment when she yells at the police for tearing up the neighborhood looking for a missing dog when her husband is missing and they won’t even consider looking for him until he’s been gone over forty-eight hours. Other shining moments she had include when she finally pointed out to her husband that he should ask what’s going on with his son because she doesn’t want to lose another one. I’m actually kind of glad Justin didn’t open up to him though, because that would have been really unrealistic after the way he’s been raised. She also has a moment where she tells Justin she’s “been keeping the peace between you and your father for too long,” that felt realistic, yet annoying, because her husband is clearly the one in the wrong. Yes, the kid is sulky and has a bad attitude, but he’s not even treated like a person, so who can blame him.
For a minute it looks like the dog dies. SPOILER, he doesn’t. And we get a touching moment with Justin talking to Kyle’s headstone.
It wasn’t an awful movie. In fact, according to Bella, it was “The goodest movie ever! I didn’t know you could walk a dog without a leash or ride a bike with your dog.”
But the weird out of sync with time feel, the flat characterization, and the ineptitude of the parents left a lot to be desired. If you want the feel good highlights without the angst, watch this instead.