Director Lasse Hallström is a master of sentimentality. He has made some good films over the years—What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (one of my personal favorites) and 2014’s The Hundred-Foot Journey. However, he has made some cinematic misfires, including Dear John and Safe Haven (two Nicholas Sparks adaptations). A Dog’s Purpose marks the return to Hallström’s familiar roots of Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.
A lot of you might have heard the controversy surrounding A Dog’s Purpose. TMZ uploaded a video featuring a behind-the-scenes shoot of a German shepherd being forced into a water tank. Then, we see the dog under the water. This caused an outrage of whether the dog was abused or not. While shocking to watch, there was no way the dog was abused. Some of you might beg to differ.
That’s not the reason behind why the movie is such a cluttered mess. It suffers from a manipulative screenplay (written by five people including author W. Bruce Cameron) that plays out more as a Hallmark Movie of the Year, cardboard cutout characters, and a tone oozing with sap.
A spirit called Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad, who replaced Bradley Cooper at the last minute) tries to find out about his existence as a dog through the owners he touches on a daily basis through life and death. Spanning through five decades, he reincarnates through different dog breeds ranging from a golden retriever to a German shepherd working for the K-9 Chicago Police Unit (the one seen in the video) to a St. Bernard. As a golden retriever, his owner Ethan, a high school athlete (KJ Apa) finds trust and respect in Bailey. Convinced by him to find a girlfriend in Hannah (Britt Robertson, Tomorrowland), Ethan can’t seem to live without his lovable canine.
As a lover of dogs, it is a cute concept about no matter what breed or gender of the dog, the spirit remains. It’s about as harmless as a movie of its kind can get. If a dog moving its lips, it would have resulted in a disaster of biblical proportions. Smart move for giving A Dog’s Purpose the Homeward Bound treatment in terms of letting an actor voice on what the dog is thinking. Gad’s narration is warm and inviting, and does have a funny line here and there. But—he could have been better. The dogs give much better performances than the human actors alone (Dennis Quaid seems to be trying a little too hard).
It does have some graceful moments—especially Bailey running through the wheat fields and the teenage romance between Ethan and Hannah. But, who the hell brings a dog to a date or to a school? With numerous awkward point-of-view shots, there are also several moments of slapstick comedy that falls flat on its face. In one embarrassing scene, Ethan—as a child—decides to distract his parents and dinner guests by saying there is a rat in the house while putting a coin back in his father’s old coin collection that Bailey puts in his mouth. Throughout the two-hour duration, there are no surprises to be found.
I do admit the movie does look really nice, but if the last act is the best of your movie, you are asking for trouble. I certainly expected it to be a lot worse. A Dog’s Purpose is for dog lovers, by dog lovers.
Would there ever be a film called A Cat’s Purpose? I doubt it.