‘A Dog’s Purpose’ gets lost along the way

A Dog’s Purpose (2017)

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom

A few weeks before its release, TMZ released an edited clip from the set of “A Dog’s Purpose” seeming to show a German Shepard being forced to shoot a scene it wanted no part in. But the footage was shot over a year ago, and the couple of people responsible for the terrible lapse in judgment had long since completed their part in the film’s production. Nevertheless, a public outcry and subsequent boycott went viral, which certainly hurt the film’s box office performance. But it didn’t hurt those guys who shouldn’t be in the field of animal training—instead, it hurt the rest of the crew, the producers, the actors, and your local theater (who’s probably already struggling because your lazy ass would rather watch Netflix). No, those idiots were long gone, probably hired on a different production, because TMZ waited a year to release the footage—showing that they weren’t in it for the dog, they were in it for the sensationalism, the gossip, and the money. If you had wanted to see “A Dog’s Purpose,” go see it. Don’t let TMZ win.

That said, “A Dog’s Purpose” really isn’t worth seeing. Not because of all that—but for a bunch of other reasons. Director Lasse Hallström is known for his milky, sentimental mush, but at least films like “Chocolat” and “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” are decent enough to be charming. “A Dog’s Purpose” starts off with a beguiling concept; that all dogs reincarnate, and don’t, as the old adage says, go to heaven. All of those rowdy conceits from movies like “Marley and Me” and “My Dog Skip” come back in full force, as the film’s main dog character (too cutely voiced by Josh Gad) gets into fun trouble at every turn. But the jokes are all corny, like they were just written to make your grandma chuckle. There’s nothing new under the sun, at least where funny dog mishaps are concerned. That’s what I learned from “A Dog’s Purpose.” If you’re just in it for cute dog antics, you’re covered. But most people aren’t. They want some central theme or driving plot point to keep you interested and make you care. And as hard as “A Dog’s Purpose” tries to drive home its existential “Why am I here?” question, it fails to connect—lazy mentions of it in passing are your reminder that there’s supposed to be something bigger here. It’s a series of unfortunate events for the people in the dog’s life, and he’s just there to try to make it better and wonder why it’s all so sad in the first place. It’s a broken record. And what Gad’s character decides in the end is a very narrow approach to purpose and happiness, one that not everyone will be so sure about. Not to mention all the unanswered questions! “A Dog’s Purpose” has so many egregious plot holes it would take one hundred dogs a week to dig them all. Of course, the movie isn’t striving to be realistic—but it’d be nice if this non-existent dog-reincarnation universe were at least consistent with itself. Oh well.

If there’s a bright side, it’s that these dog actors and actresses are quite good. Cute, obedient, easy to love. The humans aren’t bad, either. Dennis Quaid is the one most people will recognize, but there’s also John Ortiz and Britt Robertson. The cast is of all ages and genders and breeds—oh, and there’s plenty of diversity in the human cast, too. But after two hours of “A Dog’s Purpose” you’ll be asking, “What was the purpose?” Was it just to make you sad, or make you wonder what your dog really knows or whether there’s a heaven for dogs and people, or something else? In the end, the answer might be more simplistic than you hoped.

5.5/10

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