After attending an advance screening of “A Dog’s Purpose”, I learned of the TMZ video and controversy involving one of the dogs in the film being forced to perform a stunt on set, clearly against his will – and the dangerous situation that followed. The video is shocking and it’s not surprising that PETA and animal advocates everywhere are upset – and that those involved with the production are looking for answers and trying to disassociate themselves from the situation. The scene in question is one of the few dramatic moments in the movie, as a K-9 police dog jumps into a river to rescue a kidnapped girl.
Even before the TMZ revelation, “A Dog’s Purpose” was going to be a tough sell, as it is a film made solely for dog lovers. If you’re not a passionate dog person, there’s no way you can survive this sappy, sentimental tale (tail). Cat Lover? Stay home. Bird Nut? Don’t even think about it. And if you’re not a pet person in general, there’s absolutely no “purpose” in you attending this movie.
And yet, even dog fanatics will have some difficulty with this story because of, well, what happens to most of the dogs along the way.
“A Dog’s Purpose” is based on a 2010 novel that deals with the delicate subject of reincarnation. Josh Gad provides the voice of the dog (or, more accurately, the dog’s “spirit”), who we see take life in six different forms over a half-century span of the narrative. After hearing his opening line, “What is the meaning of life?”, I immediately knew it was going to be an interesting night.
In dealing with reincarnation, in order to accomplish the ultimate goal of the film, several dogs must…travel to the great beyond. In this way, “A Dog’s Purpose” is “Marley & Me” x 6. So be prepared.
Obviously this is a fable – a fantasy, but even in that realm the majority of what takes place is pure lunacy. Screenwriter Cathryn Michon and director Lasse Hallstrom (coming-off the charming 2014 foodie flick “The Hundred-Foot Journey”) play fast and loose with time, logic and common sense. There are major continuity problems, and so much of the story is dependent on coincidence. And most of the acting has the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” TV movie feel.
As for Gad, he uses his own voice, which is also that of a certain popular Disney snowman, which is very distracting. During a scene in which young lovers Ethan and Hannah (played by Britt Robertson – who it seems has been in every fifth movie released over the past two years) are eating ice cream, I kept waiting for Gad, as the dog, to say, “Some people are worth melting for.”
There are a few parts of “A Dog’s Purpose” that provide some intensity. It’s risky to explore topics such as alcoholism and loneliness in a PG-rated “family” movie, but there are some scenes in which that is done effectively. I also enjoyed watching Dennis Quaid, who appears in the film’s final section. From “The Parent Trap” to “The Rookie” to “The Express” (some of my personal Quaid favorites), he can be counted-on to deliver a solid performance, and he makes the most of his climactic, highly emotional supporting role here.
If the TMZ video hadn’t been released, this review would’ve ended with something like, “If you’re a dog lover, go to “A Dog’s Purpose”, enjoy it, embrace it – just be sure to bring some tissues. And for everyone else, keep your distance”. But at this point, I’m guessing most canine owners and animal-rights supporters most likely won’t be seeing the film, either.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “A Dog’s Purpose” gets a D+.
“A Dog’s Purpose” opens January 27th. Running Time: 105 min.