It can be hard to resist the appeal of a movie with a beloved and intelligent pet at its heart, especially one with big brown doggy eyes. Yep, film makers know exactly how to tug on our heart – and purse – strings. Or, at least, they think they do. Of late, they’ve been churning out what’s not-so-affectionately referred to as “talking dog movies” with monotonous regularity, where a warm hearted, nay sentimental, family story is told through the eyes of the mandatory mutt. And, very often, its thoughts are voiced by a name with some acting significance.
The latest in this clichéd line is The Art Of Racing In The Rain, with golden retriever, Enzo, at its centre. His racing driver owner, Denny (Milo Ventimiglia) chooses him as a puppy, gives him a name which nods in the direction of Ferrari and the two become inseparable. The dog observes his adored master’s growing success, his falling in love, becoming a father and then facing painful family problems, all of which are shown in flashback as, when the film opens, Enzo is in a poorly state, waiting patiently for his master to come home and find him.
This, however, is one articulate, philosophical dog. His opening lines lament the fact that he’s not polysyllabic. I mean, what dog would use language like that? Chances are he knows how to spell it as well. He’s convinced, because of a TV documentary he watched about Mongolia, that when he dies he’ll come back as a human, equipped with everything he’s learnt about people during his time as a dog. He bangs on about it at just about every chance. And, to put you out of your misery, he’s voiced by Kevin Costner. Not a bad match, it has to be said, but it does make you wonder why he agreed to it. It’s hardly a stretch.
We’ve seen more than a few of these in recent years, most notably A Dog’s Purpose with the dog voiced by Josh Gad. And they follow that predictable formula. Even with the addition of Formula One racing, this does much the same and offers nothing new. That title is all about how a champion turns a disadvantage to an advantage – both Denny and his dog getting philosophical again – but there’s little else there. Thank goodness Denny’s daughter doesn’t get trapped down that infamous well – although there’s a moment which comes close and it’s down to Enzo to raise the alarm. Not that he has to bark very much.
Despite targeting your tear ducts, the film is hardly likely to give them much in the way of exercise. Attempts to make you laugh – usually through Enzo’s observations – fall flat on their doggy shaped butts. And what’s really disappointing – and surprising – is that in the director’s chair for this pedestrian effort is Simon Curtis, who made the enchanting My Week With Marilyn and, more recently, Goodbye Christopher Robin. That it’s being given a cinema release is questionable. It would be much more at home as a mid-afternoon TV movie, accompanied by a cup of tea and a digestive. It’s contrived, leaden, deeply dull and worth no more than that.
Freda Cooper | [rating=1]
Drama, Family, Fantasy | Cert:12A| UK, 9 August (2019) | Twentieth Century Fox | Dir. Simon Curtis | Kevin Costner (voice only), Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, Gary Cole, Kathy Baker, Ryan Kiera Johnson.