Released: January 11, 2019. Directed by: Charles Martin Smith. Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard (voice), Jonah Hauer-King, Ashley Judd. Runtime: 1h 36 min.
I like movies about animals, but apparently not when they’re based on books by W. Bruce Cameron (A Dog’s Purpose). His latest film, A Dog’s Way Home is a familiar dog film that plays it completely safe and follows Bella (Bryce Dallas Howard), a pup who gets rescued from under a house and is taken in by Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and his military veteran mom Terri (Ashley Judd). Lucas heads a cause to save kittens from under a broken-down house across the street because the property owner wants to demolish it.
For some reason, the property owner is adamant that there are no kittens under the house and asks Terri to have her son stay out of his business, or they’ll go to war. Being the vet that she is, Terri asks “What do you know about war?” The dialogue doesn’t get stronger from there. After this feud, events lead to Bella being 400 miles away and trying to find her way back home to Lucas.
The structure isn’t what’s wrong with the movie. The film is just weakest when Lucas and Olivia are out of the picture and it’s only Bella, which is saying a lot because Lucas and Olivia are dull.
Bella’s a cute pit-bull mix – her breed’s important for the film’s conflict – but Bryce Dallas Howard’s voice-over is weak. She acts as the dog’s thought process and thinks through the innocence of a dog – she names all the games like “Go Home” (Bella tries to do this the entire film and is bad at it) and in one of the film’s only chuckle-worthy moments she calls a veteran’s wheelchair a “small car” – but her dialogue is super boring and dull. The thoughts are just obvious, so when it’s just her doing voice-over and the dog is looking super pouty, it’s painful.
That’s at fault of the writers, Cathryn Michon and the book’s author and co scriptwriter W. Bruce Cameron, but Dallas Howard offers little effort to make it sound interesting. It’s monotone and the emotions sound basic, and it just doesn’t sound like a dog, either. I think Josh Gad’s voice works for A Dog’s Purpose because he’s hyperactive and sounds like a dog, but Dallas Howard sounds like what it is: An actress recording lines in a studio for the dog. I know that’s what Gad is doing, too, but he sells it.
The repetitive monologues about her having to find Lucas grow tiresome quickly, as they’re usually a lazy transition to get the film back to its main goal. There’s only one moment in the film that feels genuine when she discusses getting back to Lucas. She says it about another dog, saying, “He’s found his Lucas, but I’m still looking for mine.” If there were more heartwarming moments like that, I would have enjoyed this more.
The structure of the film is okay, as Bella meets different characters on her journey home like a bad CGI cougar called Big Kitten. The humans she meets are fine, too – the only notable ones are Gavin (Barry Watson) and Taylor (Motell Gyn Foster), who come into player during a rare scene of action that makes this feel like the family adventure it’s supposed to be.
The film’s conflict doesn’t work well, as the animal control officer villain feels more like a simplistic version of Beethoven than anything. This film is also painfully boring. I read about the dog Shelby that was rescued from a Tennessee animal shelter to portray Bella in this film. Her story sounds intriguing and it sounds like it would have made a much better film than this forgettable doggie picture. And if Shelby does get a movie about her, maybe sitting through this would have been worth it. But probably not.