Movie Review: Tears and smiles line the path along “A Dog’s Journey”

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You come for the dogs, you stay for the tears?
That’s the way these “Dog’s Purpose/Dog’s Way Home/Dog’s Journey” movies are supposed to work.

You watch some perfectly youtubeable clips of puppies, a few utterly generic canine stunts, listen to some seriously lachrymose narration by Josh Gad, as “The Dog of a Thousand Names” and endure the deaths of assorted beloved pets, secure in the knowledge that “All Dogs Go to Heaven,” that Bailey the dog will be reincarnated and that Dennis Quaid will be the only one who knows Bailey’s secret.

What works in “A Dog’s Journey,” in which Bailey goes through several breeds/genders/lives on his mission of “purpose,” to look after the neglected grandchild of Ethan (Quaid) and Hannah (Marg Helgenberger, replacing the late Peggy Lipton).

“I would never stop looking until I found her!”

The tiny tyke CJ needs looking after because her widowed mom (Betty Gilpin of TV’s “Glow” and “Elementary”) is self-absorbed, determined to make it as a “singer” and always dragging home strays — men who will never replace her dead husband, Hannah and Ethan’s son.

Bailey, a Great Pyrnees/Bernese mix in the opening scenes, becomes Molly, an adorable Beaglier (Beagle, King Charles Spaniel mix), and later a Biewer Yorkshire Terrier lapdog named Max and an African Boerboel  named “Big Dog.

No, I didn’t recognize all the breeds, I looked them up. And no, I didn’t give you “spoilers” because I listed them out of order, so there.

As CJ grows up to pursue her dreams of a music career in the big city, she is played by Kathryn Prescott and must endure an abusive teen romance and a lot of lingering bitterness over the mother that kept her from her beloved grandparents.

But of course, we know that Bailey, in whatever guise, will make all these wrongs right. Even if it takes him/her a few lives to do it.

I found the whole more than a tad insipid, but I love dogs almost beyond measure, so here’s what I loved seeing.

Most of the canines are mixed breeds, not inbred purebreds.

There’s a moment one dog is fetched from a rescue group, and the lady running the adoptions (Cherissa Richards), gets the movie’s best line.

“Rescue’s like a river. It has to keep flowing, or it backs up.”

Don’t buy your pals-for-life from a pet shop. Adopt from a shelter.

And Dennis Quaid, who replaces Jeff Bridges as the Best Actor to Never Win an Oscar, throws himself into this part, selling this relationship like someone born with dogs, raised with dogs and never quite at home unless he’s with a dog. He may actually be a cat person, but I totally bought him and his “Boss Dog” moments. And if he is a cat person, that’s another argument for giving this guy an Oscar.

Not for these tear-jerkers. The further they get from “A Dog’s Purpose,” the weaker they get.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: PG for thematic content, some peril and rude humor

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Kathryn Prescott, Betty Gilpin, Marg Helgenberger, Henry Lau, Johnny Galecki.

Credits: Directed by Gail Mancuso, script by Maya Forbes, Cathryn Michon, Wallace Wolodarsky and W. Bruce Cameron, based on his novel.  A Universal release.

Running time: 1:49

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