“A Dog’s Purpose” Movie Review


     As well intentioned as director Lasse Hallstrom’s “A Dog’s Purpose” is, the film still plays much more like an after school special than the feature film it wants to be.  Sure, the dog lovers certain to make up the majority of the audience, as well as the more non discriminate kids who will be taken to this film in droves, will appreciate the endless array of canines who occupy the film’s several storylines, but there’s still really no excuse for the consistently hammy and cliched dialogue courtesy of the five screenwriters (W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells, Maya Forbes, and Wally Wolodarsky) who tackled the adaptation of Cameron’s novel.  The result is virtually no substance to fill in the blanks around the talking dog characters who serve as the focus of the story.

     The premise features a dog named Bailey, who is voiced by Josh Gad, and becomes the pet of an 8 year old boy named Ethan (Bryce Gheisar) in the 1950s.  Bailey sees Ethan through the point where he leaves home as a young adult, and when he is put to sleep due to complications of old age, his being simply transfers to that of a new dog in a completely different situation.  He’s still self aware as to who he was before, but must quickly adapt to his new owner and surroundings.  This occurs four times during the course of the story, thrusting the audience into a different set of circumstances, some of which are well drawn and others seem as though the filmmakers intended it to be a quick stop on the way to something bigger.

     In the initial story, Hallstrom moves from the extremes of family melodrama, courtesy of a very bland and typical caricature of a drunk father played by Luke Kirby, to the overly comedic set pieces featuring Bailey and the mayhem he causes during an important meeting with Ethan’s father’s boss.  Much of it comes off as generic, as if the screenwriters thought it necessary to create a stereotypical stage to allow the various comedic blunders courtesy of Bailey to stand out that much more.  To be certain, Bailey has no issue standing out.  As Ethan (K.J. Apa) continues to grow into a teenager and begins courting his first love, Hannah (Britt Robertson) there are numerous scenes featuring copious amounts of dogs licking people directly on the lips for uncomfortable stretches.  All I could think about was the Farrelly Brothers making fun of the exact same thing in “There’s Something About Mary” and yet the constant face licking was even worse here.  To each his own though.

     When the story moves on to Bailey’s next life, he now finds himself as a police dog named Buddy, whose K9 handler, Carlos (John Ortiz), couldn’t be more of a cardboard character set within a circumstance designed solely to show off the heroics of a dog and not much else.  The very short sequence features a really dumb criminal and police officers in a scenario so laughable and unrealistic it would’ve been wise to leave it on the cutting room floor.  Perhaps the film ran over budget at this point and the police consultant had to be let go, or maybe they figured the scene could be constructed via the use of watching old television shows like “Chips” in order to convey the kind of realism police officers face in the real world.  The only fortunate aspect of Buddy’s life as a police dog is that it is short lived and moves on to the next incarnation rather quickly.

     Throughout the story, Bailey consistently asks the question of which the film is aptly titled. Like all of us, he as a dog wants to know what exactly is his purpose.  I’m not so sure he ever really has that question answered, but the story moves through several additional versions of Bailey, one in which he ends up as the companion of a lonely and awkward college student and forges a bond over knowing what each other is thinking when it comes to the food they are hungry for.  The final stop, which features the ever dependable Dennis Quaid, is clearly designed to pull at the heart strings of any dog lover who either currently or in the past has had a loving relationship with what we dub as man’s best friend.  There’s plenty here to like when the film explores that relationship for what it is and for what it means to people of all ages, but the film also suffers from bland storytelling and over used plot devices that fail to support Bailey and her reincarnations as the true centerpieces of the story that they are.  GRADE: C