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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Max is an uplifting -- although pretty intense -- story about a boy who bonds with his dead brother's military dog. It has some heavy themes (specifically, dealing with loss) and very violent moments, including explosions that kill soldiers in combat, threatening confrontations, and chase scenes in which criminals menace teenagers with huge guns. Teen characters kiss, and adults drink beer, but aside from the military violence and other tense moments, there's little iffy content here. That said, things can get emotional as the main character absorbs the movie's central messages about loyalty and heroism.
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What's the story?
Brave, intelligent, and movie-(dog) star handsome, MAX is a military-trained Belgian Malinois who works with his Marine master, Kyle (Robbie Amell), in Afghanistan. Kyle's friend/fellow soldier Tyler is illegally selling recovered weapons; his nefarious actions get Kyle killed. In the wake of Kyle's death, Max falls into a violent, anti-social depression, so the military asks Kyle's family to take the dog. Max bonds with Kyle's younger brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins), who's been traumatized both by trying to live up to his soldier father's standards and by Kyle's death. As Max and Justin heal each other, Tyler comes to town and involves the family in his gun running, putting them all in harm's way. Max understands all of this and takes action; intense chase scenes, dog fights, and threatening pistol-wielding all follow.
Is it any good?
With engaging performances that bolster a scenario combining Americans' attraction to heroic military epics and our love of dogs, this movie hums along. Max is magnificent and gives a performance that makes Rin Tin Tin and Lassie look like chopped liver. Owing to a need to wrap things up neatly, the movie can sometimes feel formulaic and even obvious: The bad guy is melodramatically identified early on, and when he pops up later in the story, Max goes nuts trying to communicate the danger -- but, hey, humans just don't listen. Still, there's lots to like about Max, and you can certainly expect your heartstrings to be tugged.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the many ways there are to deal with the loss of a loved one. How is grief portrayed in Max? How do you think you might react in similar circumstances? Who could you turn to for help/support?
When parents and children have conflicts, what can help them better understand each other?
What role does violence play in the story? Do you think it's necessary to the plot? Which has more impact -- the scenes of explosions and threats or the emotional ones in which characters deal with grief? Why?
- In theaters: June 26, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: October 27, 2015
- Cast: Lauren Graham, Robbie Amell, Jay Hernandez, Josh Wiggins
- Director: Boaz Yakin
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Great Boy Role Models
- Character strengths: Courage
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: action violence, peril, brief language and some thematic elements
- Last updated: April 15, 2021
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