A Dog's Purpose

by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday January 27, 2017

Dennis Quaid and canine costar in 'A Dog's Purpose'
Dennis Quaid and canine costar in 'A Dog's Purpose'  

A dog is euthanized about 30 seconds into "A Dog's Purpose." It's off-screen, but that's what happens. We're introduced to a pack of newborn puppies, and you could set your watch to the audience's collective discharge of "Aww." The voice of Josh Gad contemplates the meaning of life, but almost instantaneously the puppy of focus is captured by a dog catcher's net, tossed into the back of a van and we fade into a blotchy golden hue that becomes a staple throughout a film driven on schmaltzy sentimentality and manipulatively plotted canine casualties.

Our first puppy, gone before even receiving a name, is reincarnated as an adorable and curious golden retriever that is taken in by a Midwestern family, at the heart of which is a young boy named Ethan. He names the dog Bailey, and the first half of the movie is spent exploring the magical bond between boy and dog. After the audience becomes adequately attached to Bailey, and Ethan has grown into a college-aged man, Bailey is given the death sentence.

Then we meet Ellie, a German Shepherd trained as a K-9 police dog by her owner, Carlos, and after about ten minutes we say goodbye to Ellie. Then there's Tino, a short and stout Corgi who helps a young woman in the '80s find love (we know it's the '80s because of the A-Ha music and the Jheri Curls). Ten minutes later -- so long, Tino.

Then there's Pancakes, who is first taken in by a neglectful couple fitting a cartoonish stereotype that can only be described as "white trash." After being abandoned by these owners, the dog uses its keen sense of smell to find its way back to a grown-up Ethan (Dennis Quaid). Hackneyed happiness and ham-fisted aims at the heartstrings ensue.

It's a perfectly mediocre film with sweet intentions and silly execution -- a piece of commerce solely designed to appeal to the large demographic of people who use Facebook primarily to share cute videos of animals. It's taken a hit in recent weeks, due to reports of animal abuse on set and a video released by TMZ, but I'd encourage people to read more about the situation before jumping to immediate conclusions (this Hollywood Reporter piece by the film's producer, Gavin Polone, is a good place to start).

Politics aside, the ultimate impact of "A Dog's Purpose" really depends on one's tolerance and vulnerability to this very specific type of calculated drama. This movie knows exactly what it's doing: Its laughs, tears and swells of emotion are pre-determined at every single turn. As for this critic, even I found myself feeling a quick wave of melancholy upon seeing shots of a dying dog on a veterinarian's table. You'd have to be soulless to not feel even a little something, especially if, as was my case, you've experienced that exact scenario before.

But I'm still no fool, and no tears were shed as this replicated artifice screamed at me through the screen to do just that. You can ask anyone who has shared a moviegoing experience with me, I'm no stranger to becoming an emotional wreck. But there's a difference between something like "Manchester by the Sea" and "A Dog's Purpose." In one, the emotions are authentic and raw. In the other, you can feel the invisible sign flashing above the screen: "Cry Now!" It's like watching a band playing out of rhythm, yet the lead singer insists you tap your toes and dance. Give me a real reason to first, and maybe I'll consider it.