Review: ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ belongs in the pound
“A Dog’s Purpose” pretends to tackle big questions about dogs’ relationship with man, but never gets deeper than that age-old question, “Who’s a good boy?”
The film has the dramatic nuance of a fiction piece authored for Highlights for Children, but goes into some decidedly dark places that are out-of-step with its bland, wistful narration.
Josh Gad is the voice of Bailey, a red retriever who gets adopted by a family in 1960s Michigan. (W. Bruce Cameron, one of five credited writers and the author of the book on which the film is based, hails from Petoskey.) Gad is simple and wholesome even as the story incorporates elements of alcoholism and arson, and he plays the dog like an inquisitive 7-year-old boy.
Bailey and young Ethan (Bryce Gheisar, and later K.J. Apa) have a relationship straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting: Bailey accompanies his owner on dates and even attends his high school football games. (That’s weird, right?)
Bailey is reincarnated through the decades — the film takes a hard line on rebirth, accepts it as truth and moves on — in a series of other bodies and breeds, each of which marks a shift in tone for director Lasse Hallström (“The Cider House Rules”).
At one point it becomes a ’70s buddy cop picture as Bailey inhabits a police K-9’s body in Chicago; at another, the dog is chained to a tree outdoors by its abusive white trash owners. Woof.
The journey eventually cycles back, clumsily, to the story of Ethan, but even its warm fuzzies feel bittersweet. “A Dog’s Purpose” finds itself in a peculiar spot, pandering to dog lovers, but still not giving them what they want.
‘A Dog’s Purpose’
Rated PG: for thematic elements and some peril
Running time: 120 minutes