Having recently made my reservations about talking-dog movies a public issue, it is with a sigh of reality that I report on the arrival of a new one. “A Dog’s Purpose” takes no half-measures: This canine talks all the way through the picture.
The film is based on a novel, told from a dog’s perspective, by W. Bruce Cameron. It turns out dogs experience reincarnation, so we watch our central pooch travel through a series of different lives. All take place in the USA, which is lucky because with our current laws I’m pretty sure the reincarnated soul of a foreign dog would be barred from immigrating here.
In the key section, our hero is named Bailey by his grateful kid owner, Ethan (played by Bryce Gheisar and, later, K.J. Apa). Ethan’s parents (Juliet Rylance, Luke Kirby) have their problems, but Bailey is a constant and loyal companion.
In another life, Bailey (who gets different names, and sometimes different genders, as he/she is reincarnated) becomes a German shepherd police dog. This leads to a cop chase that frankly belongs in another movie.
With this reincarnation theme, it goes without saying that in each of Bailey’s lives, he will eventually die. This means the film will have audiences digging out the tissues at least every 20 minutes or so.
That all of this is bearable — and it is, to a surprising extent — is surely due to the discretion of director Lasse Hallstrom, whose long career has included “The Cider House Rules” and “The Hundred-Foot Journey.” By the way, Hallstrom had his international breakthrough with the wonderful “My Life as a Dog,” which is almost too coincidental (that movie was about a boy, not a dog).
Through every step of philosophical flapdoodle peddled by “A Dog’s Purpose,” Hallstrom manages to maintain some level of dignity. The final section, which features Dennis Quaid and “Mod Squad” star Peggy Lipton, is too cornball for anybody’s talents, however.
The movie’s best when it keeps things silly, aided by Josh Gad’s romping narration as the dog.
The film’s release got unwanted attention when on-set footage, showing a dog being urged to jump in a pool, surfaced online. PETA, with its usual judicious reflection, immediately called for a boycott based on animal cruelty claims. The producer of “A Dog’s Purpose,” Gavin Polone, provided a clarifying response in a recent Hollywood Reporter.
The kerfuffle might scotch the possibility of a sequel. Which would be weird anyway, because if the dog keeps getting new lives, he will outlive all of his beloved human keepers and be doomed to an eternal return. Doesn’t sound all that warm and fuzzy, really.
“A Dog’s Purpose” (2 stars)
A dog (voiced by Josh Gad) narrates this tale of a reincarnated pooch and his many owners. A few silly moments and a great deal of philosophical flapdoodle are made somewhat bearable by director Lasse Hallstrom’s thoughtful approach.
Rating: PG, for subject matter
Showing: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Thornton Place Stadium, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza