A Dog's Purpose

 

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A dog, in many incarnations, attempts to find the meaning of life.

 

Dog's Purpose, A

The meaning of dog: KJ Apa and Bailey

 

Few films expect us to take such a leap of faith. But a belief in destiny and reincarnation is mandatory if one is to swallow the premise of A Dog’s Purpose. And it would help if we believed in the canine capacity to see the world as we see it, albeit fine-tuned by its nose. Unlike last year’s portmanteau comedy-drama Wiener-Dog, a not entirely dissimilar confection, this adaptation of W. Bruce Cameron’s novel takes the same dog through a series of chapters with different owners. The difference here is that the film is aimed at the tear ducts and the poor pooch keeps on dying and popping up in the bodies of different breeds, albeit all born in the United States.

 

Josh Gad provides the voice and reasoning of our narrator, a canine soul perplexed by his reason for being. “What is the meaning of life?” our diminutive philosopher wonders, before being taken off to the dog pound to die. Rachel Portman’s characteristically treacly music is on tap to remind us where our emotions should lie, and then our narrator’s second incarnation turns out to be a red retriever. While still a puppy, he is rescued from near-death by a woman and her son and is dubbed ‘Bailey’. Our narrator finally suspects he has found his true calling and grows up alongside the boy, Ethan (KJ Apa), through a tumultuous childhood of the usual highs and lows (school, girlfriends, parental discord, arson). For the most part they are inseparable and share a bond that most dogs can but envy.

 

There are some nice observations as Baily and his various embodiments attempt to package the human experience into a dog’s world view (why is Ethan looking for food in Hannah’s mouth?), but it ain’t enough. The film’s purpose is to draw an international audience of dog lovers to the box-office and, true, tears are likely to be spilled over the popcorn. But the stop-start-stop-start format never works well in filmic terms, with the viewer hurled from one emotional showdown to the next without the actual satisfaction of getting to know any of the characters.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Britt Robertson, KJ Apa, John Ortiz, Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad (voice only), Peggy Lipton, Logan Miller, Juliet Rylance, Luke Kirby, Gabrielle Rose, Michael Bofshever, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Pooch Hall, Bryce Gheisar, Nicole LaPlaca.

 

Dir Lasse Hallström, Pro Gavin Polone, Screenplay W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells, Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky, Ph Terry Stacey, Pro Des Michael Carlin, Ed Robert Leighton, M Rachel Portman, Costumes Shay Cunliffe.

 

Amblin Entertainment/Reliance Entertainment/Walden Media/Pariah Entertainment Group-Entertainment One.

100 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 5 May 2017. Cert. PG.