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A Dog’s Purpose

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Josh Gad was the perfect voice for the snowman Olaf in Frozen. He was fine as the dog (dogs) in this, except that…he was given such idiotic things to say. Dialogue that consists of things like: “What is the meaning of life?” or “What is my purpose? Is that a dead skunk I smell? Why are people licking each other’s faces?”

And when teenagers are in a car making out, he smells something funny. Wait…you’re wondering if perhaps this isn’t an appropriate movie for kids. Well, it starts off with a dog dying. Very soon after, when it’s reincarnated into another cute mutt…that dog is left in a car, panting and on the verge of death, until a woman breaks the window open and takes him. So, PETA may want us to boycott the movie because of the video that was released showing a German Shepherd being forced into rapid waters. You should boycott it because it’s crap. It’s not a kids movie, and it’s too cutesy for adults. It’s like a Lifetime movie with dog deaths. I’m saying this and…I’M A DOG LOVER! The trailers for this had me panting with excitement.

This is all based on the W. Bruce Cameron bestselling novel, and it had to be made by a director named Lasse. He also gave us My Life As A Dog, but it’s not just films about canines he whips out. He’s done some fine work with Chocolat and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Yet this time out, Lasse Hallstrom wanted to make a movie worse than Collateral Beauty. He succeeded. Who would’ve guessed that Nicholas Sparks would’ve done a better job than Hallstrom?

The premise was promising. A dog’s soul is reincarnated into different dog bodies. The first dog is done with quickly. Dog catchers grab him, kill him, and as he bemoans his fate with a “That was it?” before quickly becoming a new puppy. That puppy almost dies in a pickup truck with closed windows, but hey…if you love cute puppies, maybe you’ll also love dogs gasping for breath with their tongues out.

It’s the ‘50s, and this Leave it to Beaver family begrudgingly keeps the dog. Ethan (Bryce Gheispar) names it Bailey and they’re inseparable. Dad (Luke Kirby) is a traveling salesman, who as the story moves along, drinks more and more. Mom (Juliet Rylance) always has an apron, and gardens and cooks meals. The film is surprisingly devoid of humor. You get scenes like the dog swallowing a rare gold coin and Ethan having to look for it in dog poo. When Ethan is older (played by K.J. Apa), it’s dog farting jokes when he’s trying to get frisky with Hannah (Britt Robertson) in his car.

It’s not clear why the teenager Ethan brings his dog everywhere. He’s playing quarterback for his team and the dog is in the stands watching him. He’s offered a football scholarship, and when he leaves — it’s one of the few moments in the film that works. The dog runs after the car, with a flattened football they always throw around. But just because there are a few tears, most of it is just manipulative and ends up not working.

In the course of the movie, the dog will rescue people from a fire, save a drowning girl, and then have time to save the policeman in his K9 unit who is about to be shot. It’s the dog that gets shot instead, and…as he lays there dying, we hear him say, “I’m tired. Can I sleep in your bed?”

And as that scene is getting to me (since the gruff cop never let the dog into his bed), I thought to myself — now kids get to see a dog being shot to death? What kind of bizarre movie is this? But wait…we’re back to puppies again. Maybe that wasn’t so bad for kids to endure.

Now he’s a Corgi, arguably the cutest breed around. Yet he’s saddled up with a shy college student who has a problem meeting guys. She meets a man with ugly sweaters, lots of jheri curl, who isn’t all that interesting. In fact, he’s mostly obsessed with watching Dynasty. The dog he brought into the relationship adds an element of interest for the Corgi, but they don’t do much with it. Until…you guessed it. That dog dies, and the Corgi is sad. But hey…the dog gets to be reborn, and so we get more puppies. Yay! Oh wait…a white trash family now gets the dog, and it’s the usual stereotypes. They leave the dog tied up outside for years and eventually, the owner puts him in the truck, and drops him off in the middle of the street. The dog thinks about trekking home, but instead journeys to greener pastures. As luck would have it, he smells Ethan’s childhood girlfriend (she smells like biscuits, apparently). That leads to everyone reuniting and living happily ever after. [side note: the only time a film worked with a character being described with a food smell, was Andie MacDowell saying John Travolta’s angel in Michael smelled like cookies]

Dennis Quaid is the older version of Ethan. It’s one of many aging football player characters he’s done. It was strange hearing Quaid on a talk show recently defending the film, which has come under a lot of fire for the dog video. He, and the rest of the studio, are claiming the video we saw was “edited to look worse.” I don’t see how that’s possible (and the closing credits still had the nerve to say “No animals were harmed in the filming”). Maybe they weren’t, but my eyeballs were harmed in the watching of this.

The acting was bad (the drunk father, especially). It didn’t have the sense of adventure you expect from dog films (and from a guy named Lasse!).

The 3rd act was the most bearable, but this movie is really a mess [insert dog doo-doo joke here].

The best thing it had going was the score from Rachel Portman, and the use of one of my favorite Santana songs — All I Ever Wanted (co-written by my friend Alex Ligertwood).

This gets 1 star out of 5.