It's hard to criticize a film like Max, which tells the story of a military dog (!) who develops Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after his Marine master is killed in ugly circumstances (spoiler!), and is eventually entrusted to the Marine's sulky younger brother. (You might sulk too if your big brother was a virtuous hunk who became a Marine just like war-hero Dad, leaving you with little choice but to rebel in sullen, stupid ways.) It's hard to criticize because, for starters, it's about a dog with PTSD. Maybe the critic should kick some puppies as a warm-up, or at least grind some flowers underfoot? Plus, storywise, it's a solid attempt at a Boy's Adventure movie — slightly fantastical, but with one sneaker still on the ground — and that genre could use some modern updates besides the marvelous Mud. Plus, it does some things really well, particularly in the departments of atrophied virtue, familial repair, and yes, moral complication. But for every good thing, there is something else that's just plain bad — distractingly so. Pacing. Delivery of dialogue (hard to tell whether to blame actors or director here). Audience-baiting sass. Surely sincerity doesn't have to feel this amateurish. (2015) — Matthew Lickona

Rated PG | 1 hour, 51 minutes
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