Even within the strictest formulas of today's superhero-driven Hollywood, the experienced craftsman with a genuine enthusiasm for the form can find precious moments that are able to accommodate his or her personality. See, for example, director Boaz Yakin, who, following a pair of personal indies (1994's Fresh and 1998's A Price Above Rubies), has turned into a kind of low-key journeyman. Since 2000, his work has run the gamut: There's been an uplifting, star-driven football drama (Remember the Titans), a female-led comedy (Uptown Girls), a New York City–set Jason Statham vehicle (Safe). Yakin's new movie, Max, adds yet another genre to the fold -- it's a canine sort-of-weepie with war-movie coating -- and Yakin executes the touching material with the expected serviceability.
Max begins in Kandahar Province, with golden boy Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell) spearheading a unit alongside his MWD (Military Working Dog) partner, a Belgian malinois named Max. With his nose to the ground and his tongue hanging out of his mouth, Max leads the troops through small villages, peering into windows and alleyways for hints of danger. Spoiler alert: Max makes it home, but Kyle doesn't.
Back in Texas, Kyle's family -- father Ray (Thomas Haden Church), mother Pamela (Lauren Graham), and little brother Justin (Hellion's Josh Wiggins) -- takes the dog in. Max suffers from PTSD, but shows signs of responsiveness in the company of Justin, and initially proves a reprieve from grief and familial hostility. Max rarely transcends its generic template; as it stands, it's another modest, functional success from a director who used to work on the margins.