The movies have love affairs with animals. From Disney to Pixar to live-action movies that give major character animal companions, animals often play a big role in how people experience films. Aside from being characters themselves, animals allow filmmakers the opportunity to express ideas and emotions about other characters without the need for dialogue. Most importantly, however, a good animal can make a film truly memorable.

This almost happens in Boaz Yakin's upcoming "Max," a family film that tells the story of a military working dog that loses its trainer in combat and is subsequently placed in the care of his deceased loved one's family.

The family is traumatized by the lost of its loved one, only accentuating the distance between patriarch Ray Wincott (Thomas Haden Church) and his son Justin (Josh Wiggins). Stuck in the middle is Pamela (Lauren Graham), who unfortunately gets little to do in the film aside from recite a stilted line that makes little sense in the context despite being clearly intended for a heroic moment.

In any case, Max takes to Justin but remains on the periphery with Ray who seems to see the dog as a painful reminder of his son.

The film initially seems to showcase the healing process for Max, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, and the grieving family with Justin maturing from a bootlegger to a promising teenager and faithful son. It eventually gets there, but not before taking a winding turn down the road of family-film clichés and even some distasteful stereotypes.

Max's arrival into Justin's life also coincides with meeting Carmen (Mia Xitlali), his best friend Chuy's (Dejon LaQuake) cousin. The two immediately take to one another, slowly building up a predictable love affair. Mia represents the smart-talking Latina that backs up her actions with words, a stark contrast to the cowardly Chuy. It is refreshing to see Latinos portrayed in a positive light in a film set in Southern America.

Until they aren't. The film of course, given its genre as a family film, could not stand pat with exploring the emotional healing between the animal and his family without throwing them on some sort of adventure that features contraband and bad guys. One of the bad guys is Tyler Harne (Luke Kleintank), a poorly-kept secret the moment Max tries to attack him in all of his fury. Tyler is a former military man who worked alongside the Wincotts' son Kyle (Robbie Amell) in the Middle East, but it becomes clear that he is up to no good.

Unfortunately for the film and its dependence on clichés, the other villains happen to be Latinos (Mexicans no less), smuggling weapons across the border and engaging in dirty business. Justin happens upon one of the transactions alongside Max and then the world goes into chaos with the stakes ramped up for the Wincott family.

The film moves at a predictable pace and clip throughout, but it manages to come out decently mainly because of the titular character, which was played by a number of Belgian Malinois. While the humans remain archetypal creations, Max actually seems to have a personality and arc, moving from a traumatized dog back to the hero that he was born to be. Just looking at the dog's face in closeup reveals a complex emotional world that unfortunately no one else in the film fully possesses.

The film is not without its poignant moments, with Justin watching a video of Max's training from infancy providing the emotional centerpiece, but the reality is that the film rarely surprises and some of those predictable moments lack the potency one would expect from films that play those same beats (Pamela's big "triumph" is one example of a catharsis that falls flat). In many ways, its emotionality is rather blunt and overly direct. 

The actors do their best with what is given, though some of the lines of dialogue early on feel rather forced on the viewer to get necessary information out of the way. Arguably the most uncomfortable scene in this regard is the introduction of the Wincott family as they Skype with Kyle. It all seems rather manufactured to establish each character's relationship with Justin obviously involved in his video gaming and not even bothering to look over at his parents; could there be a greater cliché these days than the teenager so plugged into technology that he is unplugged from the world around him?

Despite these shortcomings, "Max" should please audiences looking for a family film filled with adventure and lovable dogs. It helps to have a solid cast of characters to lead the way, even if the people we are expected to bond with are people we have met in other iterations, possibly better ones.