Friday 3 May 2019

"A Dog's Journey" (Guardian 03/05/19)

A Dog’s Journey **
Dir: Gail Mancuso. With: Dennis Quaid, Betty Gilpin, Marg Helgenberger, Kathryn Prescott. 108 mins. Cert: PG

This week’s dogtainment is the sequel to 2017’s A Dog’s Purpose, the Lasse Hallström holiday timekiller chiefly notable for its faithful translation of author W. Bruce Cameron’s bizarre concept: its onscreen walkies were narrated by a free-floating canine spirit (bearing the voice of Frozen’s Josh Gad) who jumped from dog’s body to dog’s body like Scott Bakula – Barkula, maybe? – in some canine Quantum Leap reboot. On a second runout, that USP seems less eccentric, but equally some of the oddball novelty has worn off. Four credited screenwriters – including former Simpsons scribes Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky, upping the poop-joke quotient – merely use that astral projection to usher another conveyor belt of pooches through much the same cornily conservative scenarios the studios churned out in Rin Tin Tin’s heyday.

Only its restlessness feels entirely novel, tailored as it is to wet-nosed viewers made distractible by hours of scrolling through floofcentric Instagram feeds. Bailey, Spirit Gad’s ultimate destination first time round, has settled on the ever-workshirted Dennis Quaid’s perpetually sundappled farm, yet – tissues at the ready – he hasn’t long for this world. Our spirit guide must thus find his way back in another form, an odyssey that entails shepherding Quaid’s songbird granddaughter Clarity Jane (Kathryn Prescott) away from G.L.O.W.’s Betty Gilpin, marked as a Bad Mother by her tendency to liberally decant Pinot Grigio in the hours before sundown. Here we spot evangelically minded producers Walden Media’s pawprint: images of Bailey bounding through a celestial wheatfield, as if in an ad for some new, consecrated Winalot Prime recipe, push the dog-as-guardian-angel line further still.

Any cheap tears can be attributed to the way Cameron’s writing rubs up against earthlier experiences: seeing out thunderstorms alongside one’s pet, sudden health crises, ominous visits from the vet. (The finale goes full-blown Six Feet Under, with Mark Isham’s score shamelessly recycling Sia’s “Breathe Me”.) Yet as signalled by one character’s cursory cancer treatment, there’s nothing much for the human performers to sink their teeth into: Quaid eventually succumbs to comical old-age latex, having long ceded the screen to the slobbering selling points. By their very nature, dog lovers may be more forgiving and enthusiastic, but between 80-90% of it is reaction shots of trained mutts; right through to the closing-credit snapshots of the crew’s “Forever Friends”, the movie is almost literally all puppy eyes.

A Dog's Purpose opens in cinemas nationwide today.

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