Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article
The two best things you can do for a dog - or any pet for that matter - is grant them a lovely, safe home and then put them to sleep when you come to the realization that there are more bad days than good days ahead. Speaking as an ardent cat-lover, the latter was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, and just for its sheer level of recognizing the tender moments, I'll admit that A Dog's Purpose had me lightly emotional during certain inevitable moments. However, when you have a film that has a premise that's so easy to have the common-person relate to, you better equip the narrative or the screenplay with some particularly profound or at least convincing insights.
Unfortunately, A Dog's Purpose can't offer audiences much of anything outside the cloying, impulse-driven mind of a canine and redundant instances where it feels like screenwriters are pining to get the audience's tearducts working overtime.
The film initially revolves around a golden retriever named given the name Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad, as are all the dogs in the film) by a spunky young kid named Ethan thanks to his gracious parents. Bailey gives Ethan the companionship he's long desired, acting as a best friend when Ethan wants to play ball or as he becomes the quarterback for his high school football team. As he grows up, he keeps Bailey close by his side, along with his new girlfriend Hanna, but soon after the inevitable happens, Bailey is reincarnated as Ellie, a police-dog who works closely with a K9 unit.
A Dog's Purpose
Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton
27 January 2017
Steve's Grade: D+
Bailey soon learns that his life serves more of a purpose than just helping one family or one young child. For a little while, he solves mysteries with the police and even rescues a kidnapped girl. A little while later, he's a stout dog that serves as a companion for a lonely college student, and eventually comes full-circle when he reconnects with an old friend. This whole time, Bailey is trying to pinpoint his exact "purpose" in life, at least when he's forgoing the nudging urge to devour bacon or other delicacies known as "table" or "people" food.
Moments manufactured to make you go "awe" and shed a tear are ubiquitous in A Dog's Purpose, such as moments where a game of fetch becomes a little to picturesque as Bailey leaps through a window as Ethan takes off for college and relationships are started and saved by the timely presence of a dog. These are all instances we expect from such a saccharine project about the dogs in our lives, but director Lasse Hallström and the five screenwriters (one of them W. Bruce Cameron, the writer of the book on which the film is based) don't give the project any life outside of what we expect. This is very much a "gun for hire" project, in that it feels like anyone could've made it and given it the exact same treatment. There's almost no echo or even spark of originality at hand.
Dog-lovers will bite and pet-owners will weep, but A Dog's Purpose is slight in every regard. Heavy on the mawkish pathos but desperately so light on real human/canine connection that makes us clutch our animals closer at night or when we've had the worst day imaginable, it's a film that's lasting impact is the equivalent of that time your dog made you a little frustrated until you forgave him or her and allowed them to sleep in your bed that same night.