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Review: A Dog's Purpose

A Dog's Purpose
01.25.2017
5 10

A Dog's Purpose review Lasse Hallstrom Dennis Quaid movie

PLOT: A dog lives several different lifetimes, with several different owners, bringing a measure of happiness to each of them. But what is its true purpose in this world?

REVIEW: "A Dog's Purpose" is, evidently, to kick your heart into submission. As a film, A DOG'S PURPOSE is emotional torture porn, a movie that knows it will absolutely get sympathetic reactions from its audience during crucial moments involving cute canines. Unless that audience hate dogs. If you hate dogs, you very well may cheer the several times a dog dies in this movie, but the rest of us are doomed to be devastated four or five times over.

Not that it's wholly effective. It's hard to judge the film fairly, in that sense. Yes, I got choked up several times. I love dogs and I'm an easy mark for movies where beloved animals die, so A DOG'S PURPOSE easily had me on the ropes throughout. But the critical part of my brain was always thinking about how much of what transpired on screen was manipulative BS; that the story had been engineered in a way to provoke this reaction, and that I was being suckered. When the film concluded, I felt foolish for allowing it to get to me. I guess at the end of the day, A DOG'S PURPOSE is about a battle between the heart and the brain. The heart wins initially - because awww dogs! - but the brain chops the sentiment to pieces immediately after.

A Dog's Purpose review Lasse Hallstrom Dennis Quaid movie

We are introduced to Dog right after he's born. Then, not a few minutes later, Dog is put to sleep. Yes, that's right. They kill a dog a mere two minutes into this movie, I suppose to establish the central idea that even though he'll die, over and over again, Dog is always reborn into a new body. The movie, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, gets very dark fairly often, only to bounce right back into the light again. With a whimsical worldview and boundless curiosity, Dog is voiced by Josh Gad, who shares his thoughts via omnipresent voiceover. Dog (he is, of course, named several different things throughout) has a litany of owners, the most important being a young man named Ethan (K.J. Apa) who he grows up with. The movie is quite sweet in its own routine way for a time, as we watch Ethan take his furry pal everywhere with him - even on dates and to high school football games?! - but the good times end when Ethan goes away to school, leaving Bailey to grow old and die.

We are treated to several scenes where the dog dies. The dog acknowledges it is dying and thinks about its sad human owners. This is not fun stuff, and I can only imagine children being subjected to this dismal scenario (especially if they've already gone through this in real life). The movie rebounds whenever Dog is a puppy again, but after a couple instances of this, a cynical guy like me can't help but think of more morbid questions. Is every dog cursed to live in a cycle of heartbreak and death? Can there be no respite from this cruel sequence of birth, hope, happiness, abandonment, suffering, termination? Is everyone's dog in the middle of living, dying, repeating?!

A Dog's Purpose review Lasse Hallstrom Dennis Quaid movie

No doubt, one isn't supposed to ponder these deeper questions, since for some reason the dog never does either. He remembers his past lives but never really puts any of his gained knowledge to use, nor does he consider his own mortality. (In the world this movie takes place in, a dog remembers only the trivial stuff, not the shattering reality of its infinite existence.) As a "character," the dog doesn't give us much beyond his short-sighted observations and musings. Plenty of PG-friendly talk. Gad's voice, high-pitched and childlike, works in a very elementary way, but there's nothing especially noteworthy about Dog, who often sounds like he's in a dog food commercial. Dog isn't exactly E.T., or even Benji.

When you take away the heartbreaking moments, A DOG'S PURPOSE is a rather corny experience. None of the human drama feels real or compelling; it's all coated in a melodramatic TV Movie atmosphere. The actors do what they can - John Ortiz is good as one of Dog's owners, a cop - but the material is pure schmaltz. And let's face it, no one's here for the humans. The dogs are all good dogs; they play their parts very convincingly, and watching them scamper about is enjoyable... up to a point. I mean, I can go to YouTube for that stuff.

But I'm guilty: I felt feelings during the big emotional moments. Any person who has ever cared for a pet will. The ending is sappy and sweet and gives you the heartstring-tugging denouement this movie deserves. Is any of it earned? Probably not. A DOG'S PURPOSE's structure and attitude are simply too cloying, too transparently calculating. Only how can one ignore the dogs? They're adorable; they even smile for the camera! And then they die. Hard not to feel just a little something during A DOG's PURPOSE, even when you know you're being jerked around.

Source: JoBlo.com

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