One-and-a-half out of five stars
Spoiler alert: Kyle dies in action and Max is sent home to Texas, where Kyle’s family takes him in. Kyle’s father (Thomas Haden Church) forces Kyle’s rebellious teen brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins), to take care of Max. Justin has issues with his father, and also has issues with Kyle’s service in the Marines. He’s not good at expressing his emotions. Oh, wait: he’s a teenager.
Then, for some reason, this movie changes from a family drama to a sub par, wannabe action thriller that completely feels like it’s exploiting the military in an effort to manipulate emotions. Even worse, its talented cast is made to seem a bit pedestrian. Thomas Hayden Church is an Oscar nominee (2005’s "Sideways") and the writing and stupidity of some of the action that unfolds feels amateurish and beneath him.
As for Wiggins, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he becomes a star, but this script does him no favors. There’s actually a scene in which Justin and his two friends wade through a stream in water up to their necks -- then somehow, five minutes later, his friend is able to receive a call on his flip phone, after it was completely submerged in water. I’m not kidding. And it’s a really cheap flip phone.
I’m sure a few people will be easily manipulated and distracted by the cute dog. It happens. Otherwise, "Max" is a waste of your time.