Review: Dog tale 'Art of Racing in the Rain' tugs at heartstrings

Kevin Costner voices the world's most eloquent dog in film based on best-selling novel

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Enzo is one heck of a dog.

Not only is he loyal and cuddly, he has the loquacious internal monologue of a great poet. "I can smell the day on him," Enzo says, voiced by a craggy Kevin Costner, as his owner greets him at the door. Think of Enzo as Longfellow reborn as a golden retriever. 

Milo Ventimiglia in "The Art of Racing in the Rain."

"The Art of Racing in the Rain," the over-sentimentalized adaptation of Garth Stein's 2008 best-seller, might have worked better if Enzo had been given the pen.

As is, this tale of friendship and companionship between man and man's best friend is bogged down in weepy cliches ripped straight from the Art of Making the Audience Cry handbook.   

"This is Us'" Milo Ventimiglia stars as Denny, an aspiring Formula One driver who picks up a pup one day and names him after the founder of Ferrari. They watch races on TV together, and Enzo takes it all in; he's soon using racing wisdom as life advice. 

As a character, Enzo is at turns fascinating and baffling. You can buy into a canine with a philosopher's spirit and soul, and Costner imbues him with rough-hewn charm. But when that same dog carries on an ongoing feud with a stuffed zebra, it makes for an odd dynamic.

Still, Enzo's smart enough to know he's trapped inside a Hallmark movie. Denny meets Eve (Amanda Seyfried), they have a baby girl, and Enzo is forced to reevaluate his role in Denny's life. Those scenes are handled well by director Simon Curtis ("Goodbye Christopher Robin") and "War for the Planet of the Apes" screenwriter Mark Bomback,

But when tragedy strikes, "The Art of Racing in the Rain" becomes a checklist of plot elements designed to cheaply tug at your heartstrings. This sweet if strange tale quickly goes to the dogs, even though it may make you hug yours a little tighter when you get home. 

'The Art of Racing in the Rain'


Rated PG: for thematic material

Running time: 109 minutes