Every dog movie has its day . . . except for THIS one.
If one was upset and heartbroken when the canine in “Marley & Me” was put down at the end, then prepare to be even more aghast when FOUR dogs come and go in this latest Universal release, A Dog’s Purpose, directed by Lasse Hallström (“The Hundred-Foot Journey”) and gleaned from a bestselling novel by W. Bruce Cameron. Meant as an homage to the often very special relationships between dogs and humans, it nevertheless comes across as a manipulative and cloying experience that ultimately undermines Hallström’s no doubt good intentions.
We first see the pooch (voiced by Josh Gad, “Pixels,” throughout) as an unidentified puppy that’s soon caught by an animal control officer (i.e., dogcatcher) and is soon put to sleep (the fun begins). He is then allowed to live a bit longer as he is reincarnated into the floppy retriever Bailey, who is rescued by a young boy named Ethan (Bryce Gheisar, “Walk the Prank” TV series) and his long-suffering mother (Juliet Rylance, “Sinister”).
She’s long-suffering because of her violent, drunken husband (a pudgy, stubbled Luke Kirby, “Touched with Fire”) in case you were wondering.
The years pile up and Ethan grows to be a teenager (now played by K.J. Apa, “Riverdale” TV series) who meets and woos Hannah (Britt Robertson, “Tomorrowland”), and is a talented quarterback given a full scholarship at Michigan State University. All the while, Bailey romps and plays (with the now-obligatory flatulence scene) and catches deflated footballs (don’t tell Tom Brady) until he gets old and dies.
Ah, but he comes back as a tough German Shepard police dog (and — gasp! — as a GIRL!) named “Ellie” who is trained and owned by a gruff and lonely cop (John Ortiz, “The Drop”). In another scene children should not see, this animal is shot and killed while saving the officer’s life. The pup now comes back as a cute little Corgi and is purchased by a hip African-American college student, Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste, “Downward Dog” TV series), who keeps the canine through marriage and children before it too passes away.
Another birth sees the poor mutt, now named “Buddy,” chained to a tree in the yard of a jerkwad and his daffy girlfriend. He finally escapes and makes it back to a now much older Ethan (Dennis Quaid, “Truth” and still no doubt really miffed that his brother, Randy, received an Academy Award nomination while he NEVER has) and the older Hannah (Peggy Lipton, “When in Rome”), where his ability to chase a deflated football and respond to the phrase, “Boss Dog,” causes a tearful reunion.
Written by committee (including W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells, Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky), A Dog’s Purpose is uneven, schlocky and without much direction or pacing. A leaked video involving a reluctant German Shepard allegedly forced to jump into water has blunted some of the enthusiasm for the picture, but that controversy has nothing to do with the fact that this film is a real dog (pun most certainly intended) and would not generate much interest even without the incident (especially with another family friendly picture, “The LEGO Batman Movie” looming on the horizon).
While made for adults, A Dog’s Purpose will mostly appeal to children who enjoy endless close-up shots of pups lolling about, fighting for a space at mama’s breasts, licking faces, swallowing gold coins, chasing balls and — ugh — dying.
For the rest of us who see through the treacle, unfortunately, they’re barking up the wrong tree — entertainment-wise.