A DOG’S PURPOSE gets 4/10 Lasse come home

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Starring Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, KJ Apa, Britt Robertson

Earlier this year A Dog’s Purpose caused a scandal with a claim of animal cruelty, due to a disturbing on-set video screened by entertainment show TMZ. The video showed a seemingly distressed animal continuously forced into a water tank till the film crew got the right shot. However a subsequent independent investigations found that that this wasn’t the case, and the movie was produced to the strict standards of the American Humane Association. The damning video that caused the outrage was apparently edited in a misleading fashion, not showing the actual treatment of the dog involved. So it’s wrong to dislike A Dog’s Purpose on its treatment of four pawed actors, especially when it gives you so many reasons to dislike it on its own merits.

The premise of A Dog’s Purpose is certainly unique. It follows the spiritual journey of a dog (voiced by Josh Gad) trying to work out his (and occasionally her) purpose through a succession of reincarnated lives, all of which are of the canine variety. Each life forms a vignette, of varying length, as the dog gains a new understanding of life through various owners and across decades of American history.

This is sheer sentimentality, presented in a thick sugar coating of rural Americana. At times there is the occasional flash of something more shaded, more nuanced, but director Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) has neutered W. Bruce Cameron’s novel, to produce the most family-friendly version possible. The vignette nature of the tale also makes it feel somewhat unbalanced, as the various lives shift focus and eras (although often the set dressing fails to reflect this). The result is disjointed. Occasionally it appears to draw inspiration from 60s TV sitcoms, at others it is a short youtube video about cute dogs drawn out into a feature film. Instead of being a rich tapestry of American life that the film aspires to, we are instead left with a dog’s breakfast.

Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast) tries his darnedest to sell his four legged characters with a quizzically impish voice-over, but it is an all or nothing proposition. Either you buy his hijinks, and are in for his cute puppy act (for the entirety of the movie), or you find it insufferably grating. KJ Apa (Riverdale) once again plays a small town high school football hero from a broken home, albeit this time sans the red hair, and Dennis Quaid brings some effortless charm to a “salt of the earth” farmer. Yet it is the dogs that are the obvious stars, and the draw card for any canine lover in the audience. To such an obvious extent, that the film is reliant on that.

If you are a dog lover, then this film will hit the mark, despite its poor scripting and schmaltz. If you are a cat person (or even more shockingly – not a pet owner), then A Dog’s Purpose will seem like an unbearably long cavalcade of mediocrity dragged slowly across your eyeballs.

Unfortunately, I was the later.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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