October 19, 2019

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This journey not worth going on

Sequel to A Dog's Purpose takes a predictable course

UNIVERSAL</p><p>Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and his wife Hannan (Peggy Gilpin) alongside Bailey in A Dog’s Journey.</p>

UNIVERSAL

Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and his wife Hannan (Peggy Gilpin) alongside Bailey in A Dog’s Journey.

A Dog’s Journey, the sequel to 2017’s A Dog’s Purpose, feels suspiciously like a “faith-based” movie.

Remember, the premise of A Dog’s Purpose, sustained throughout its sequel, is that a dog is repeatedly reincarnated so that it can provide aid and comfort to a single human over its many lifetimes. Still considered a fanciful notion here in the West, it’s a candy-coated interpretation of serious tenets of religions such as Buddhism and Sikhism.

Still, both movies press hard on that aspect with something approaching pious zeal. In both films, the spirit of the dog Bailey ends up where it starts, completing a circle suggestive that a higher consciousness is at work ordering the universe in such a way as to facilitate... Dennis Quaid getting his dog back.

Quaid returns to the role of Ethan. You’ll recall from the first film, he was a would-be football star in his youth compelled by fate to live a more mundane life as a farmer, and living miserably apart from his one true love. In the climax of that film, his loyal boyhood dog Bailey shows up in a new incarnation to matchmake him with the woman (Peggy Lipton) he foolishly left behind.

A Dog’s Journey, the sequel to 2017’s A Dog’s Purpose, feels suspiciously like a "faith-based" movie.

Remember, the premise of A Dog’s Purpose, sustained throughout its sequel, is that a dog is repeatedly reincarnated so that it can provide aid and comfort to a single human over its many lifetimes. Still considered a fanciful notion here in the West, it’s a candy-coated interpretation of serious tenets of religions such as Buddhism and Sikhism.

Still, both movies press hard on that aspect with something approaching pious zeal. In both films, the spirit of the dog Bailey ends up where it starts, completing a circle suggestive that a higher consciousness is at work ordering the universe in such a way as to facilitate... Dennis Quaid getting his dog back.

Quaid returns to the role of Ethan. You’ll recall from the first film, he was a would-be football star in his youth compelled by fate to live a more mundane life as a farmer, and living miserably apart from his one true love. In the climax of that film, his loyal boyhood dog Bailey shows up in a new incarnation to matchmake him with the woman (Peggy Lipton) he foolishly left behind.

As the sequel begins, Bailey is still around, even as Ethan and his wife, Hannah (Marg Helgenberger takes over the role from the recently deceased Lipton), are now playing host to Hannah’s daughter-in-law Gloria (Betty Gilpin) and Gloria’s infant daughter CJ, in the wake of the accidental death of Gloria’s husband. (If this was the ’80s, he’d be the character getting reincarnated as a dog.)

Being widowed is no excuse for being a pill. But Gloria, a frustrated singer, gets tired of the idyllic life farm life. Much to Ethan and Hannah’s consternation, Gloria huffily leaves with baby CJ.

Ethan, wised up to Bailey’s penchant for wilful reincarnation, asks the dog to find and protect CJ, which is a tall order for an animal that would, left to its own devices, drink from a toilet.

Bailey obliges anyway and a few years later changes breed and gender and shows up at the door of grade-schooler CJ (Abby Ryder Fortson), as Molly. Still later, Bailey changes yet again into a scrappy little mutt named Max, finding his way to the door of the adult CJ (Kathryn Prescott), now living in New York City. (Except for a few New York location shots, the movie was made in Manitoba.) Molly/Max/Bailey’s main job is to guide CJ toward her childhood friend Trent (Henry Lau), also living in the Big Apple and still carrying a torch for the oblivious gal.

UNIVERSAL</p><p>In A Dog’s Journey, Bailey the dog reincarnates to comfort his human companions CJ (Emma Volk) and her mother, Gloria (Betty Gilpin).</p>

UNIVERSAL

In A Dog’s Journey, Bailey the dog reincarnates to comfort his human companions CJ (Emma Volk) and her mother, Gloria (Betty Gilpin).

The new film is directed by TV vet Gail Mancuso, a fact that gave viewers of the first film hope that the movie would have landed its comedy elements better.

The director of the first film, Lasse Hallstrom, has staked out his career as a master of melodrama, which played out in the film as a reliable source of tear-inducing moments. But Hallstrom failed to provide much in the way of laughs, despite many opportunities.

The Emmy-winning Mancuso got her start as a director on Roseanne and has gone on to earn credits on TV comedies such as 30 Rock and Modern Family. But she can’t resist the pull of tear-jerking, and keeping the camera in focus on a dying dog pretty much does the trick.

It’s surprising the script by novelist W. Bruce Cameron — a humorist — and three other writers ignore the comic possibilities of the story beyond a few poop jokes.

In fact, the script is bluntly by-the-numbers when it comes to plot points, many of which you can safely predict, although a few are confounding. (How is it teen CJ sentenced to community service for... attending a party?)

If A Dog’s Purpose felt like a loosely connected series of short stories, A Dog’s Journey pretty much revolves around CJ’s martyred miss, making this movie a more conventional long-form narrative. That’s not really a positive.

The cast does decent enough work in roles that feel underwritten. The exception is Gilpin as the self-loathing lush Gloria. Gilpin knows hers is the meatiest role and she makes the most of it.

After all, does anyone remember any of the human characters in 101 Dalmatians other than Cruella de Vil?

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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