A Dog's Purpose

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Laura Clifford 
A Dog's Purpose

Robin Clifford 

Over the course of five decades, one dog, Bailey (voice of Josh Gad, "Frozen's" Olaf), is reincarnated as various breeds in different situations.  But Bailey never forgets his first human, Ethan Montgomery (Bryce Gheisar), the eight year-old boy who saved him from a hot car in 1962.  His various experiences will bring him back to Ethan at a crucial time, teaching Bailey "A Dog's Purpose."

Laura:
Swedish director Lasse Hallström broke out globally back in the 80's with "My Life as a Dog," going on to make one of the most moving cinematic portrayals of our relationship with canines in 2009's "Hachi: A Dog's Tale."  Unfortunately, "A Dog's Purpose," which has been under fire by PETA (more on that later), has more in common with his Nicolas Sparks' adaptations than those earlier films.  Making the film from Bailey's point of view might seem like a good idea, but Cathryn Michon's adaptation of W. Bruce Cameron's best seller offers only the most obvious perspectives and the device inhibits human characterization.  Bailey's alternate personas have scant screen time and add nothing to the film's central question which is ultimately answered with a Hallmark sentiment.

After Bailey's first, brief life, the film's first fifty minutes are spent on Ethan's time with the retriever, from when he and his mom Elizabeth (Juliet Rylance, Cinemax's 'The Knick'') convince dad Jim (Luke Kirby, "Touched With Fire") to keep the dog through Ethan's college aged (K.J. Apa) goodbye to his best friend.  Along the way, Ethan will face many challenges, including his dad's alcoholism and the relationship with Hannah (Britt Robertson, "Tomorrowland") he ends after an injury nullifies his football scholarship.

Bailey is reborn as female German Shepherd Ellie, police dog to a lonely officer (John Ortiz, "Silver Linings Playbook"), then as Corgi Tino who lifts the life of another loner, Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).  His last rebirth is as Buddy, the St. Bernard mix kept chained in a trash strewn yard until his abandonment leads him back to Ethan (Dennis Quaid).

The film puts us through four dog deaths as well as several other harrowing cruelties (which leads to that PETA call for boycotting the film.  An edited video was released showing what was claimed to be mistreatment of a German Shepherd, Hercules, being forced into a tank of churning water (this is for a scene as Bailey's turn as a K9 responder).  Since that time, several accounts by people on set have disputed this account, saying the dog was reacting to a change in location rather than the stunt and questioning why an event occurring at the end of 2015 was only brought to light now.)

Josh Gad's vocals keep Bailey's various incarnations from becoming cartoonish without ever making him charismatic.  He's a goofy pup who likes nasty smells, a 'horse-dog,' and eating, at least until age drains enthusiasm for life.  Ethan lives in a Norman Rockwell America of football and country fairs, contrasted against inner city Chicago, suburban living and the poverty existing a few miles from Elizabeth's family farm.  The cast, which includes Peggy Lipton as the adult Hannah, provide Bailey's version of his human counterparts and little else (Rylance gets the most mileage out of her abused wife and loving mom).  Hallström and his cinematographer Terry Stacey ("Elvis & Nixon") take a half-hearted approach to Bailey's POV, most of the film shot conventionally.

"A Dog's Purpose" may appeal to easily satisfied dog lovers, but their are far richer and emotional experiences to be had with a subject that's been around since silent film (check out Reeling's Dog Movie special here - http://www.reelingreviews.com/reel632.htm).

Grade:  C

Robin:
Robin did not see this film.
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