Review: A Dog’s Purpose

A career nadir for Lasse Hallström, A Dog’s Purpose is a gratingly saccharine, manipulative midday movie equipped with a nauseating voice over from Josh Gad. There’s not one honest moment in this quagmire of trite.

The Dog Movie. A genre that splits people right down the middle in the likes and don’t likes. Almost all dog movies have audiences crying from the cuteness or because they kill off their main canine characters. Think about it, most all of them do.. Well, in A Dog’s Purpose, the premise proffers that the soul of a dog is reincarnated each time the pooch carks it. So there are multiple deaths and each one is wrung out to make you haemorrhage internally while you cry.

A Dog’s Purpose is the tale of Bailey (voiced irritatingly infantile-like by Josh Gad), a runt that starts his life journey with a short-lived puppy stint in what we assume is the 1950s in the U.S. A quick reincarnation and he’s a boisterous red retriever that is rescued by 8 year old Ethan (Bryce Gheisar) and his mother (Juliet Rylance) who adopt much to the protestations of his alcoholic father (Luke Kirby). Of course, Bailey and Ethan form an inseparable bond that lasts until 18 year old Ethan (Riverdale‘s KJ Apa) is about to ship off for agricultural college and the pooch is on his last legs. Pooch dies and we wake to a new story with the same character inhabiting a different breed of dog in a different scenario but on the same continuing timeline.

Throughout his incarnations Bailey becomes Tino, Ellie and Buddy on a journey that sees hims become a police dog, one of two pooches in a young family and a neglected St Bernard in a poverty stricken outer slum. But it’s Bailey’s ambition to return to Ethan that drives the narrative. Sure, distractions abound, but this is treacle heavy stuff, laboured on sentiment and good Christian values (Walden Media are a co-producer).

I don’t know where to begin with this. From the gratingly irritating, childish way in which Gad voices the dog (is he trying to be a 3 year old?) or in how utterly insincere the whole narrative is. There’s nothing new in these arcs nor is the ‘telling the story from the dog’s perspective’ utilised to any great effect. Considering Hallstrom crossed similar terrain in the far superior Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, he seems to be sleepwalking through this and, consequently, delivers his most pedestrian film to date.

You could set your watch to the dramatic beats of this but the most disappointing thing about this, outside of the lack of exploration a device like this has, is the slew of wooden performances on show. It’s all so uninspired.

Production values are good, and it is handsomely framed by Terry Stacey (50/50, P.S. I Love You) but the laboriously painful screenplay which features 5 (!?!) screenwriters, based on the book by W. Bruce Cameron, destroys any chance for something truly interesting to come alive.

Yes, you’ll think it’s cute and sweet and heart warming and you’ll probably cry your eyes out but that’s all the cynical and lazy film’s intent is. Don’t be fooled, this has an agenda of mediocrity and will manipulate you rather than entertain.