The Art of Racing in the Rain

When he's not dreaming of being reincarnated as a human, Enzo, the golden retriever (voice of Kevin Costner), is observing humankind and trying to shepherd his Formula One aspiring owner, Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia), in "The Art of Racing in the Rain."

Laura's Review: B-

Garth Stein's 2008 novel wasn't the first to attempt to tell a story from a dog's perspective, but it was one of the most successful, combining the author's own love of race car driving and the mindset necessary to overcome its obstacles as well as reincarnation into the dog's philosophy and keeping enough canine perception in Enzo's viewpoint to skew his human observations into often humorous misinterpretations. Mark Bomback's ("War for the Planet of the Apes") faithful adaptation, weighted heavily towards Enzo's world but occasionally projected directly from Denny's human family melodrama, is brought to the screen by director Simon Curtis, whose experience on "Goodbye Christopher Robin" serves him well here. Animal trainer Teresa Ann Miller has achieved natural and moving performances from two-year old Parker and eight year-old Butler as Enzo, neither of whom ever seems to be reacting to anything other than the fictional drama surrounding them. The film begins near its inevitably sad ending, allowing the stage to be set by Enzo's years of acquired wisdom before quickly plunking us into the joy of puppyhood where young Enzo's (the dog is named after famous car maker Ferrari) thrill at being chosen by Denny and his exploration of man's apartment work to introduce Ventimiglia's character, the two ends of the story connected with an inappropriate puddle of pee. Then Denny shares his passion with his new pup, Enzo reveling in the sights and smells of the racetrack. This beautiful friendship is interrupted when Denny meets Eve (Amanda Seyfried) at a grocery store. 'Denny was very taken by her grooming. She probably bathed every day for all I know,' a wary Enzo tells us about the woman who tells Denny she's 'not a dog person.' Eve is accepted immediately by Denny's auto body shop pals Mike (Ian Lake) and Tony (Andres Joseph) and soon Enzo's describing his good behavior at the lush estate wedding hosted by Eve's wealthy parents Maxwell (Martin Donovan) and Trish (Kathy Baker). He also notes that 'people will say anything in front of a 'dumb' dog,' noting Maxwell's negative feelings about his master. Enzo and Eve both warm to each other, Enzo embracing her whole-heartedly when his nose picks up the scent of the early genesis of Zoë (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), but he and Eve also learn about mortality together when Enzo is helpless to share more alarming olfactory knowledge. If at first Costner's voice seems too aged and gruff for the puppy we first meet, the actor's warm line readings expressing an array of emotions quickly becomes the character. The likable Ventimiglia, whose big brown eyes give him a puppyish quality, maintains the balance between risk-taking race car driver and family man. Seyfried is a good match and, aided by makeup, displays a convincing downward health spiral. The film also stars Gary Cole as Denny's racing instructor Don Kitch, the man whose belief in him eventually connects him to Ferrari's Luca Pantoni for the film's fairy tale ending. Curtis' "Woman in Gold" cinematographer Ross Emery shoots mostly from Enzo's point of view. The special effects team bring Maxwell's gift to Zoë, a stuffed zebra, to menacing life as Enzo's bête noire. No effects are needed for another fantastical scene where Enzo, who cannot enter a courtroom, 'watches' the proceedings on his beloved television. The film kicks off with two George Harrison tunes on its soundtrack, the ex-Beatle, amateur racecar driver and spiritualist the perfect choice for the material, only to abandon him for more conventional choices. Let's get this straight - if "The Art of Racing in the Rain" just told Denny's family tragedy without the benefit of Enzo, it would be mawkish, the saintly Denny tortured by the villainous Maxwell, the innocent Eve provoking Denny's restraint and Maxwell's bark. But by couching the story from a dog's point of view overlaid with racing metaphors, it becomes something novel and Curtis and company apply just the right amount of magic. You may never see a dog enjoying the breeze from a moving vehicle in quite the same way again. Grade:

Robin's Review: DNS