Justin Wincott knows what he's good at. He can jump on his mountain bike, race through ramp courses and match up with just about anybody on the twisting woodsy slopes near his house. And he knows his way around the slopes and pitfalls of online game hacking, too.
Yeah, that second activity isn't always exactly legal, but he figures it can earn him a few bucks when he sells software shortcuts to a shadowy guy in town named Emilio. Now, Justin would usually steer clear of a guy like Emilio. In this case, though, the dude's related to Justin's best friend, Chuy, so ... what can he do, huh?
Anyway, those are Justin's two skill sets. And, frankly, if he's not ramping or hacking, well, he's busy trying to fly under his dad's military-minded radar. His mom is cool. But Dad? Well, let's just say Justin prefers to stay out of the man's usually critical eyesight as much as he can.
Then Justin's older brother, Kyle, gets killed while serving in Afghanistan. Justin's life is sent spinning. And the blow nearly kills his mom. That's hard to watch, for sure. But there's something else, too.
It turns out that Kyle's highly trained military service dog, Max, was shipped home along with Kyle's body. The dog would help the Marines scope out dangerous areas and search for hidden weapons. And when his master was killed in that particularly nasty firefight, Max came out of the event with the same kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that human soldiers can experience. He was so traumatized he won't let anyone near him.
Anyone except Justin, who the animal forms an almost instant connection with. Does Max sense that the teenager and his master were brothers? Maybe. And it seems that Justin may be the only person who can help this emotionally wounded dog. In fact, the Wincotts find out that if they don't take Max in, he'll be put down. And Mom and Dad won't hear of that.
Justin isn't immediately keen about this new arrangement, but with time and a little help from Carmen, one of Chuy's dog-savvy cousins, that strange initial link between boy and beast becomes a solid bond. And as one thing leads to another, Justin realizes that he and this four-legged former war hero make a pretty good team. They become a trail-leaping, sharp-eyed duo with a knack for sniffing out local crimes. Not to mention, maybe digging up what actually happened to Kyle!
Though Justin comes off as a self-focused, angry teen when we first meet him, his interactions with Max help us see the emotional connection he had with his older brother and the deep feelings he holds for his friends and family. Justin and his friends also choose to take heroic steps that help someone in need, in spite of the fact that their foes appear too connected and powerful to defeat.
For all of their relational strains, Justin and his dad step up to protect each other and voice their love for each other. At one point, Dad admits to some of his own failings and tells his son, "A hero always tells the truth, no matter what the consequences are." Carmen makes it clear she believes you always support and stand up for your family and friends.
During Kyle's funeral, a church choir sings an arrangement of "Nearer, My God, to Thee."
Justin falls for Carmen, and the two share a brief kiss.
There's never anything bloody in evidence, but we do see soldiers under fire and then Kyle lying dead after an explosion and a brief firefight. A man falls down a rocky incline, hitting a boulder and breaking his leg. A truck full of weapons veers off the road and bursts into flames—blowing the ammunition sky high and (obviously) killing the driver.
Men pursue Justin and his friends with drawn weapons, and they shoot at the kids and Max several times. Justin's dad is held captive at gunpoint, and it's stated that he'll have to be killed for knowing too much about a criminal activity. Dad slugs a thug in the face and slams the man's arm in a truck door. Max jumps on a man attacking Justin, and the two fall off a railroad bridge. (We later see that the dog, now bandaged, survived.) Max also takes on a duo of snapping and lunging Rottweilers; the animals roll and struggle and bite.
Crude or Profane Language
When Justin spits out a less offensive version ("friggin'") of the f-word, his mom corrects him with, "You can't hide the words in your mind from God just by trading out a couple of letters." That's fantastic advice! Plugged In could not have said it better.
Elsewhere we hear, "Well, I'll be d--ned" and "You're stupid."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Dad drinks a beer and offers one to Kyle's friend and fellow soldier, Tyler, who refuses, saying it "won't mix well" with his "meds." But we also see Tyler pull a flask out of his bag.
Other Negative Elements
Justin doesn't get any comeuppance for his illegal game-stealing activities. (Though he does eventually realize that dealing with criminals comes at a cost.) The teen also takes some dangerous risks at times, such as leaping a large rocky crevice with his bike. Tyler lies repeatedly to hurt others and cover up his poor and often illegal choices.
What we have here is, well, a dog-and-his-boy hero story.
It's a matinee-style flick that harkens back to old TV shows like Lassie and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. Remember those? This pic has that same "What's wrong, boy? Is someone in trouble?" feel. Only this time around there's a few modern dog-chew twists: The four-pawed paladin is a military pooch that's skilled at sniffing out weapons caches. And the kid is an initially angsty teen who's pretty good with mountain bikes and—get this, Rin!—online hacking.
A duffle bag full of duck-for-cover peril comes along for the adventure, of course, showing up in sequences of war and moments when bullets are ricocheting or bad dogs are attacking with bared fangs. Not that the likes of Jeff, Timmy or Rin would run away from any of that, but it will make the smallest pups in your family whimper a bit.
Ultimately, though, the heroic-choices-in-the-face-of-steep-odds action, and good, clean messages of doing right and standing by your loved ones are still as prevalent and cheer-worthy as they were in the old classics.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Thomas Haden Church as Ray Wincott (Dad); Lauren Graham as Pamela Wincott (Mom); Josh Wiggins as Justin Wincott; Robbie Amell as Kyle Wincott; Luke Kleintank as Tyler Harne; Dejon LaQuake as Chuy; Mia Xitlali as Carmen; Joseph Julian Soria as Emilio
June 26, 2015
October 27, 2015