A few years back Spielberg re-released E.T., and in an effort to make the proceedings more kid-friendly, had all of the firearms digitally replaced with walkie talkies. It was a strange decision for sure, but not an indefensible one. Moreover, the plot of the film remains intact, guns or no. If the same experiment was done with Max, the new children's movie from Remember the Titans director, Boaz Yakin, the movie would be nonsensical. There are a TON of guns in the movie. Not that it's necessarily bad in the broad sense, but in the case of Max it's strange and off-putting. Remember when even the darkest kids movies were joyful? Max is cynical, joyless, and filled with surprising violence. Max tells the story of a family who loses their eldest boy to war, and then takes on the responsibility of caring for his service dog, Max. As Justin, the younger brother of our fallen soldier, helps Max cope with post-traumatic dog stress, Max's presence helps the family in the wake of their loss. You can pretty much fill in the blanks from here. Just make sure you include two separate occurrences of a human shoving a gun into a dog's face, two extremely violent dog fights (one of which ends with a "bad guy dog" explicitly drowning as he goes over a waterfall), and a bevy of characters all of whom could be most accurately described as "total jerks." Please do also include a subplot about selling stolen military weapons to Mexican cartels, because this is a kid's movie.
As previously mentioned, each and every character is shades of despicable, except for Mom (Lauren Graham), who's an idiot. Dad (Thomas Haden Church) is supposed to be a tough-love kinda guy who has trouble communicating with his son, but instead comes off as an abusive father worthy of a prison sentence, because he's one of the folks who puts a gun in a dog's face - his dog's face. Why? Because he's drunk. Mom watches and shrugs. Oh, Dad.
Justin, our lead, is a rather selfish and bratty boy who sells bootlegged video games to - you guessed it - Mexican cartel members. He consistently casts shade on his parents (although who could argue?) but otherwise has no discernible personality. Perhaps this is why his group of friends regularly refers to him as "white boy," which is weirdly alarming in its own right. His love interest, Carmen, is a young girl who is new to town because ... get ready for it ... she got a neck tattoo and attacked her dad with a knife when he found out about it. She is now forced to live with her Aunt. She's roughly 12. Her character is considered "cool" and "strong" because of her free-spirited (see: sociopathic) ways, and her excessively violent background is never mentioned again.
I could go on for an hour listing the faults of each and every character, but in doing so would rob potential viewers of the one thing this movie has going for it: unbridled insanity. Every scene brings with it three new WTF moments, and if not for the promise of these puzzlingly batty developments, Max would be devoid of any entertainment value.
While it is important to note that the intended audience for Max isn't curmudgeonly film snobs, it's hard to imagine anyone but the least discerning youngsters (see: very young) finding much to love. Go see Inside Out instead.
Max opens today in Philly area theaters.