Max, film review: Like a canine version of Clint Eastwood's American Sniper

(12A) Boaz Yakin, 111 mins. Starring: Robbie Amell, Josh Wiggins, Thomas Haden Church
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The Independent Culture

"Dogs are pretty good at judging character," we are told early on in Max. On this evidence, they have less of a nose for movie scripts. This drama is an intensely patriotic affair, which plays at times like a canine version of Clint Eastwood's American Sniper.

In the opening credits, we are told that dogs have been used by the US military since the First World War. The end credits are accompanied by archive pictures of dogs at the battlefront. Max looks like a German shepherd but the production notes tell us he is a Belgian malinois. The dog is first seen serving with his US Marine handler Kyle (Robbie Amell) in Afghanistan, sniffing out explosives and hidden caches of weapons. A few twists of his lead later and the poor mutt is back in America, suffering from post-traumatic stress. Kyle's family adopt him and his new owner is Justin (Josh Wiggins), Kyle's troubled teenage brother.

The film develops into a Huckleberry Finn-style yarn with Josh, aided by Max, taking on corrupt cops and Mexican drug runners.

There is a sparky performance from Mia Xitlali as Carmen, Justin's dog-loving Mexican sweetheart. Max tussles with a pair of vicious Rottweilers while Justin battles to win the respect of his dad (Thomas Haden Church). For once, the film doesn't anthropomorphise its canine hero. Max is no cuddly lapdog but a ferocious, feral animal. There are rousing moments here and several that don't make sense. The jingoism is incongruous and off-putting.µ