Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
A Dog's Purpose

Title: A Dog's Purpose

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: 
Reverend Lovejoy: Yes, I remember Satan's Little Helper: littering the rectory with his dirt, biting me in the apse, he unholied the holy water.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Chilling tale of a canine that lurches through the decades in a horrifying state of undeath.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: One and a half mountain lions out of five.

Tagline: "Every dog happens for a reason."

Better Tagline: "All dogs don't go to heaven, but rather are doomed to repeat their existence until attaining enlightenment."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: It's a dog's life in the modern army for Bailey, a very good retriever/German shepherd/Corgi/mutt that only wants to make his owners happy, which he does throughout the years, be they aspiring 1960s heartland quarterback Ethan (K.J. Apa) and his girlfriend Hannah (Britt Robertson), 1970s Chicago cop Carlos (John Ortiz), 1980s student Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and so on. Changing breeds with each new incarnation, Bailey struggles to find a purpose greater than sniffing butts.

"Critical" Analysis:
 There are a couple of reasons not to be surprised Lasse Hallström is directing another (his third) dog movie. First, his name is “Lasse,” so: science. Second, plenty of directors have their own preferred areas of focus, be they gangsters (Scorsese), Leonard DiCaprio (Scorsese) or scantily clad females (Bay, Stockwell, Rodriguez, Allen, Dugan, we don’t have all day here), and Hallström has a soft spot for our domesticated pals. His first effort, My Life as a Dog, is a genuine classic, while even Hachi: A Dog's Tale – which could be regarded as a warm-up for his latest flick – has its moments.

Unfortunately, A Dog's Purpose merely alternates between simplistic pap and weaponized misery.

This should have been a hard movie to screw up. Sure, the idea a dog’s soul regenerates through the decades in order to solve the Meaning of Life is kind of dopey, but no more so than five (and counting) movies about giant space robots. Dogs are great, and people like them enough to forgive things like Josh Gad’s borderline weepy voice work and sermonizing that sounds less like the output of five (!) screenwriters and more like the results of Hallström’s personal assistant leafing through the “inspirational” bookshelf at the local CVS.

Had Hallström and his team of five (!!!) screenwriters stuck to YouTube-ready clips of dogs doing dog stuff and helping their humans, everything might have worked out for the better. That’s assuming, of course, you don’t find the multiple deaths (four, for those who need to stock their theater Kleenex stash) overly traumatic. At least two of the deaths are a result of old age, which is a pretty gravy way for a pet to die, considering the alternatives. We should also probably be thankful Hallström and company didn’t try to DC Universe things up by including a vignette where “Bailey” is reincarnated as one of Michael Vick’s dogs.

"I'm back again, but why?" Bailey asks after one reincarnation, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to mutter, “Good question!” Instead, he returns to yet another usually innocuous existence (not counting the one where he’s chained in a backyard for years, then abandoned by the side of the road…bring the kids!). And just what eternal truth does Bailey attain after all this? “Don't think so far ahead." Happiness, it seems, comes first to those who don't worry about the future and just spend their days playing fetch.

This is great advice for animals prone to eating their own feces, not so much for beings with developed cerebral cortices. For example, Ethan’s (1960s) father grows despondent about the future during the Cuban Missile Crisis and despairs of ever escaping his itinerant salesman gig. Why couldn’t he just stop *thinking* so much and sniff a few butts, metaphorically speaking?

[There's also a scene where Dad’s boss comes to dinner and Bailey-related hijinks ensue. Five (!1!1!) screenwriters, people.]

Even then, ADP is occasionally humorous when it isn’t trying to forcibly extract fluid from your tear ducts. One of the more effective running gags involves Bailey attempting to "teach" the family cat how to be a better dog. This also ends in death, but played for laughs, because nobody likes cats.

Oh relax, it isn’t like you could make A Cat's Purpose anyway; it'd just be 90 minutes of the furry assholes sitting around with an occasional "Go fuck yourself" voiceover courtesy of Aubrey Plaza or Will Arnett.

Cloying, predictable and aggressively manipulative, A Dog's Purpose will find a great Hallmark Channel following among folks who refer to their pets as their children and mean it. Dogs are the anti-Socrates, and that's fine, but don't use them as a template for human existence.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar