'A Dog's Journey' Review: It Sure is Ruff to Sit Through This Tearjerker
We don’t deserve dogs. Lovable, loyal companions that want nothing more than to be by our side (and eat our food), dogs are too good for this cruel, stupid world. While we don’t deserve dogs, dogs definitely don’t deserve movies like A Dog’s Journey, the weepy, manipulative, upsetting sequel to the surprise hit A Dog’s Purpose. Once again, audiences will be forced to watch dog after dog roll over and play dead, all in the name of telling some sort of half-assed spiritual story about reincarnation. Are the pups on screen cute? They sure are. Is that enough to make this movie worth seeing? Absolutely not.
I love dogs, and I love seeing dogs in movies. One thing I don’t love, though, is watching those movie dogs die. For instance: if there happens to be a dog in a horror movie, and said canine meets an untimely end, I get very upset. That same movie could be filled with countless scenes of humans getting murdered in gruesome ways, and I won’t even flinch. Kill a dog, though? Then we’ve got problems.
Which probably means a movie like A Dog’s Journey is not for me. Because this is nothing but dogs dying. Okay, yes, other things happen too. But the general set-up dictates that the dogs on display have to get bumped-off to further the plot. In the previous film, A Dog’s Purpose, audiences met Bailey, voiced with persistent cheeriness by Josh Gad. Bailey spent that movie dying, over and over again, only to be reincarnated in another dog body. The story ended when Bailey caught back up with his original owner Ethan, who had grown from a boy into an adult, played by Dennis Quaid.
At the start of A Dog’s Purpose, Bailey is living the good life on Ethan’s farm. Ethan is a real salt of the earth guy, seemingly always wearing work gloves or trucker caps, or always leaning against picket fences or tractors. These early moments are cheerful enough, but don’t get used to them – misery awaits. Gloria (Betty Gilpin), daughter-in-law to Ethan’s wife Hannah (Marg Helgenberger), is living on the farm as well, along with her daughter, Ethan and Hannah’s granddaughter, toddler CJ. The grandparents dote on CJ, but are constantly butting heads with Gloria. After a particularly pointless argument, Gloria whisks CJ away, which upsets Ethan and Hannah. As if that weren’t bad enough, Ethan almost immediately notices a lump in poor Bailey.
It turns out the dog has cancer, and has to be put down in a scene that made me immediately want to leave the theater. We’re not even a full half-hour in yet, and a dog is already getting put to sleep on screen. “I remember this from before…,” Bailey narrates while being killed. “A tiny sting…And then my pain melted away…” The implications are nightmarish. Not only does Bailey have to die again and again, but he also remembers each death.
Before Bailey slips off to doggy heaven, which is presented as the type of big, sprawling wheat field that would make Terrence Malick salivate like a dog catching a whiff of bacon, Ethan rather selfishly asks the dying Bailey dog a favor: look after CJ. You see, Ethan is aware that Bailey can come back from the dead over and over again, and he just knows that the dog will end up in a new body and protect his granddaughter.
And that’s what happens.
Ethan’s request is like a binding contract. Bailey can’t enjoy the afterlife as long as he has a mission (or a purpose, if you will), and that mission is to find and protect CJ. Which means Bailey is quickly whisked out of dog heaven and into a new body, that of a female dog named Molly (Gad still does the voice over for this dog, and gets to immediately make a joke about how he notices this new body doesn’t have a penis). Sure enough, Bailey quickly finds a slightly older CJ, and ends up going home with her. This sets up a repetitive chain of events: Bailey’s new dog body eventually dies, and then Bailey comes back again to find CJ. Each time he returns, CJ is a little older.
As far as set-ups go, this isn’t a terrible idea. At the very least, it’s a clever way to jump through time in order to further the story. But the act of watching one dog after another meet its demise begins to wear on you, to the point where you’re not sure how much more dog death you can take. It doesn’t help that all the human drama isn’t very interesting. CJ’s storylines fail to connect – we simply don’t care about her, even though Kathryn Prescott – who plays CJ in her final form – does her best. Everyone here is doing their best, I suppose – but they have nothing to work with. Poor Betty Gilpin, so wonderful on GLOW, is stuck playing a generic mom from hell. How do we know she’s a bad mom? Because she’s either always on the phone or chugging white wine, that’s how. Not even the usually dependable Quaid can rise above this maudlin junk.
Gail Mancuso‘s direction is fit for the Hallmark Channel, and the twinkly, stirring score from Mark Isham and Emily Bear is tailor-made to pull on your heartstrings and your tear ducts. None of this is great, but can we really fault A Dog’s Journey for it? After all, this is exactly what the film is trying to do. It wants to manipulate its viewers into crying fits, and on that front, it succeeds (despite my distaste for the movie, I’ll admit I wept several times).
If you’re hoping to spend almost two hours looking at some very cute, funny, entertaining dogs, I suppose A Dog’s Journey will do the trick. But this is one reviewer who definitely isn’t sitting up and begging for more sequels.
/Film Rating: 5 out of 10
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