Directed by: Lasse Hallström – Starring: Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, Josh Gad, KJ Apa, Juliet Rylance, John Ortiz, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Peggy Lipton
For anyone who owns, or has owned, a pooch, this will certainly strike a chord. It tells the tale of a dog named Bailey – and Ellie, Tino, and Buddy (and briefly Waffles). If you’re wondering why he has so many names, it’s not that he has numerous homes as such (although he does) it’s that he has numerous lives.
Each time he dies, he is reincarnated into another. The first time is within ten minutes of the movie’s opening, which isn’t confusing in the least (that may be sarcasm!) We are taken though his lives (well, in one life he’s a she) as he tries to figure out his reason for existing.
However, one of his owners never leaves his mind or heart – a young boy named Ethan, with whom he lives a joyous life as Bailey. After that existence, he has other adventures – even working as a police dog in one incarnation. However, he eventually finds his way back to a now grown-up Ethan (Quaid) who is extremely embittered about how his life has turned out. Bailey (although he’s technically called Buddy in this incarnation) realises that he can help him, if he can just figure out how to let him know who he really is.
It’s impossible to write a review of this without mentioning that it hits cinemas swathed in controversy, after a video of a dog seemingly being dragged, and dipped into water on set, was leaked. However, you should know that the American Humane Association reported in February that an independent, third-party, animal-cruelty expert had concluded that safety measures on the set of the film were in place, and the video had been deliberately edited to mislead the public.
Setting that aside, this is shamelessly designed to tug on the heart-strings. No matter what breed of dog he is in any incarnation, the voice of Buddy (Gad) always remains childlike and inquisitive, as if they are trying to keep the image of a puppy in your mind, as opposed to a great big grown-up dog. It is incredibly sentimental from the off (like I said his first life ‘ends’ within ten minutes of the movie beginning) and it uses every tried and tested trick to move the audience.
What it hasn’t allowed for is the fact that with so many lives, the stories need time to breathe, and other than his relationship with Ethan, it feels like we are fast-forwarded through his other lives. This makes it feel a bit disjointed at times. Bailey runs the gamut of canine existence, having both loving and cruel owners, being a working dog and a pampered pooch, and they really are trying to cover all their bases in terms of striking a chord, but sometimes it feels like they are trying too hard.
The main focus is on his relationship with Ethan, and these scenes are given far more attention than the others, and feel like the most authentic. You could almost skip his other lives, and just watch those scenes.
Extremely saccharine, this seems to try too hard to please, but it is never offensive, and its heart is in the right place. If you like sweet movies that have an abundance of four-legged stars, this will warm your cockles. If you don’t like dogs, this won’t change your mind.
And if you don’t have a dog, and bring a pre-teen to this, you will probably find yourself nightmared to buy one. You have been warned.
In Cinemas May 5th!