There’s nothing like a good old movie controversy to start off the year but this time it doesn’t involve gender equality, whitewashing or Academy Award diversity. No, this time it was the subject of animal abuse in a video, released by TMZ, from the set of A Dog’s Purpose, just a week and a half before its release. Of course, the justice seekers of social media gobbled the story up and shared it with such angry vigor that a boycott was created. It then became worrisome that the video, which isn’t a continuous shot but a few pieces edited together, wasn’t being scrutinized enough and may have smeared the film badly enough that no one will see it. This is definitely sad that a story which has a positive message about pet adoption and care would get such a dark cloud over it but also, what if it’s good? What if it’s really bad?
A Dog’s Purpose follows a dog named Bailey who’s inner monologue is voiced by Josh Gad, the family friendly version of Jonah Hill. We join Bailey on his journey through half a dozen different reincarnations of life, some shorter than others. One of the more significant ones is as a golden retriever puppy, rescued in the 1950s from a hot truck on the verge of death. He is adopted by the son of his rescuer, Ethan, where he grows alongside this young boy as he moves into his pre-teen and formative years. As the bond grows, the effect on Bailey is larger than just one life as it starts to resonate in his soul and transcend all the different lives that he lives.
This is the part of the review where I should be begging audiences to forget the boycott and flood your families and friends through the theater doors to give all of your money to this film but I just can’t. This movie is the worst type of awful audience emotional manipulation as the key goal from director Lasse Hallstrom and company is to spoon you massive quantities of sugary plot punctuated with the overhanging reality of mortality. I don’t even want to get into the whole canine concept of spirituality and “Quantum Leap” parallels this film has, as it’s a whole concept that gets a bit lost on an agnostic person. In the end, it feels like an endless existential quagmire with enough loose threads to tear it apart.
To further the lasting syrupy hangover that A Dog’s Purpose will give you, it’s amazing that we got to a point where this film became such a big story yet the final product is such an obvious attempt to draw “awws” of cuteness and sympathy while hammering home elements of ideal pet care and hot button dog abuse issues, something that is pretty ironic now. Watching this film nail each cliche it sets up, both with Gad’s dog lives and Ethan’s home and personal life, it’s easy to forget that Lasse Hallstrom is a two-time Academy Award-nominated filmmaker because this is so close to a Disney Family Channel film that it’s baffling that Universal Pictures thought it would do any sort of business on the big screen. They can’t even pull up to the low bar set by Marley & Me and that’s the saddest thing about A Dog’s Purpose. 1/5