'A Dog's Purpose'
There is approximately one great moment in ‘A Dog’s Purpose’. When this movie told entirely from a dog’s point of view finally, mercifully screeches to a halt, the director’s name is revealed to be Lasse Hallström. That’s pretty funny because, you know, there was that famous dog named Lassie. OK, so maybe that’s not a particularly great moment or even a good one. I was stretching.
It’s hard to find anything nice to say about the remarkably dull and manipulative family film about a pooch that helps people. Countless versions of this same movie have been made over the years, most of them pretty bad. They all exist for that tear-jerking moment when the dog dies. Everything else is setup. In this one, the dog dies and is reincarnated a few times. At least there’s some extra bang for your buck, I suppose. It’s like getting to sit through four lame soon-to-be-dead dog movies at once. If that sounds appealing, buckle up. This’ll be a treat. If not, just don’t. It ain’t worth it. Not even for the puppies.
The movie does start with puppies though – a big shot of cute puppies. One of them starts narrating his life through voiceover. (Josh Gad provides the voice because he’s just bland enough for this material.) The first and longest life this dog has is with a boy named Ethan who grows up and falls in love and yadda yadda yadda… alcoholic father yadda yadda yadda… football scholarship yadda yadda yadda… house fire injury yadda yadda yadda… no scholarship yadda yadda yadda… doggie death. Then the pup comes back to life to be a canine partner to a lost and lonely police officer (John Ortiz) and you’re not going to believe this but the little tyke dies on duty! Then the dog lives again and does another happy family thing. Then dead (again), then life again, this time one of neglect that leads to Doggie Mcdoggerson the 4th running away and possibly reuniting with a special someone. Or maybe not. Who knows? Maybe the dog dies again. The movie sure didn’t hold that back the first few times.
There’s a rule in most genre movies that you can kill as many humans as you want, but kill one dog and you’ll lose the audience. For some reason, onscreen canine deaths upset viewers more than dozens of bodies exploding in the sky over a preschool. The only way that killing a dog can ever be acceptable on screen is in a family feature to make everyone cry. Why is that different? No clue, but it sure works. You might even say that killing a dog is the most crassly manipulative thing that any filmmaker can do. When the regularly manipulative Lasse Hallström (‘The Cider House Rules’, several Nicolas Sparks adaptations) got his hands on ‘A Dog’s Purpose’, he must have been thrilled. It was a chance to keep killing dogs and ringing out tears nonstop! What could be better? Well, most movies, apparently.
As you might expect, the episodic narrative doesn’t leave much time for character or nuance. All of the humans on screen are caricatures and clichés who stick around just long enough to get the minor emotional investment necessary for their tearful dog death scenes to count. Hallström typically works well with actors, but no one gets nearly enough screen time to offer much more than a cursory smile at how cute the dog is and then a sad face when it dies. Some of the actors are afforded a third or even fourth facial expression, but not many. The focus is on the dog, people!
We get to hear all of the dog’s innermost thoughts about the complex and difficult-to-decipher minds of humans, the deliciousness of sausages, and the shameful sweet release of a good fart. That’s right, low hanging fruit philosophy and bathroom humor plus oodles of Hallmark sentiment and plenty of scenes of dogs dying. Doesn’t that sound amazing?
It shouldn’t. Sadly, this dumbbell idea has enough marketability that a major studio paid for the manipulative bullshit, provided a big enough budget for it to look as pretty as the average detergent commercial, talked a few almost- or formerly-famous faces into appearing, and have now shoved it out into thousands of screens. A dog’s purpose is apparently to make families cry and bring in mucho monies for shameless studio executives who love to prod viewers with a stick until they feel. Hallström’s presence at least makes this dreck more competently cinematic than most doggie-sploitation movies, but not by much. Even if that sheen was enough to get dog lovers running to the theater with their pockets full of hankies, the recent leaks of what certainly looks like animal abuse footage from the set should keep them away.
That’s for the best. This is a cynically constructed garbage movie heartlessly crafted to manipulate emotions without any artistic merit or passion. The movie should be taken to the vet and put down. I know that’s impossible, but science should find a way for the good of humanity.