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A Canine Lover's Treat

Dennis Quaid
Dennis Quaid
Universal Pictures
 109 Minutes
Rated: PG
Directed ByGail Mancuso
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad    
A Dog's Journey

“If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” That bit of advice, credited at various times to Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, and others is meant as a strong suggestion for individuals and businesses that aren’t succeeding to try something different. But, in the case of author W. Bruce Cameron and the filmmakers who followed in his footsteps, it can be summed up more succinctly, “Don’t mess with success.” Cameron has cornered the market on corny but emotional talking dog books, a sub-sub-genre in which readers (or filmgoers) are privy to man’s best friend’s thoughts. Cameron even refined the concept further by making talking-dog-reincarnation movies, in which the same dog keeps being reborn. Surprisingly, the formula worked twice, but this time, in A Dog’s Journey, it’s starting to wear thin.


A Dog’s Journey is the sequel to the 2017 surprise hit, A Dog’s Purpose. (Neither film is related to this year’s earlier release, A Dog’s Way Home, based on yet another Cameron talking-dog book.) Both A Dog’s Journey and its predecessor follow the adventures of Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad), who has lived many lives (as a variety of canine breeds) over the last sixty years or so. In the first movie, Bailey discovered his purpose in his various incarnations, namely to help out a lonely farmer named Ethan (Dennis Quaid). Finally, he managed to reunite Ethan with his long-lost teenage sweetheart, Hannah, and they lived happily ever after, or, at least until the beginning of A Dog’s Journey.


As the sequel begins, it’s several years later, and Bailey is still on the farm with Ethan and Hannah (played in this movie by Marg Helgenberger). Also living with them are Hannah’s daughter-in-law, Gloria (Betty Gilpin), and toddler granddaughter C.J., following the death of Gloria’s husband before C.J. was born. Gloria is not exactly prime mother material: she drinks too much, ignores her daughter, lashes out at Ethan and Hannah, and is entirely self-absorbed. Finally, Gloria takes C.J. and leaves for greener pastures. When Bailey shuffles off to doggie heaven (portrayed in the film as a sunny hillside with lots of room for a dog to run), Ethan asks Bailey to look after C.J.


Bailey tries to do that after returning to life as a beagle named Molly, for whom ten-year-old C.J. immediately falls and hides out in her bedroom so Gloria won’t find out. Gloria isn’t too swift on the uptake, however, since she spends most of her time with various one-night stands in pursuit of an as-yet unsuccessful singing career. As C.J. becomes a teenager (played by Kathryn Prescott for the remainder of the movie), she seems destined to repeat her mother’s mistakes with men. C.J. rejects nice-guy neighbor Trent in favor of bad-boy Shane (Jake Manley). When she tries to break it off with Shane, he stalks her and deliberately rams her car, causing an accident that kills Molly.


After recovering, C.J. heads for New York, where she writes songs that she’s afraid to perform, insisting that she isn’t ready yet to sing in public yet. She is ready for a new dog, however, this time a tiny Yorkshire terrier named Max, who, big surprise here, is really yet another incarnation of Bailey. C.J. also has a new boyfriend, a controlling, abusive jerk who is a more upscale version of Shane. Max isn’t too fond of this boyfriend (just as Molly wasn’t too fond of Shane), but C.J.’s life finally takes a turn for the better when she runs into Trent (Henry Lau), now a highly successful businessman who lives in the same building as do C.J. and her boyfriend.


A Dog’s Journey is really two movies somewhat awkwardly shoehorned into the same story. First, there is the lengthy, soap operatic tale of C.J.’s life, replete with a lousy childhood, worse boyfriends, a shaky career, and an unforeseen crisis that threatens her just when she might find happiness. It’s been done a lot of times before and, frankly, much better. The story of C.J. without Bailey (and Bailey’s various alter egos) is rather dull. The only interesting aspect of C.J.’s life, at least from a dramatic perspective, is her relationship with Trent. That might have made for a good romance if it were given enough screen time to develop, instead of becoming practically a third act afterthought.


Fortunately, C.J. and her troubles get to share the screen with Bailey. Frankly, Bailey is less impressive this go-around than before, partly because there’s no sustained action or danger element to the story. Instead, there’s the ever-winning Josh Gad reciting dialogue that looks at the world through a dog’s perspective. So, A Dog’s Journey has references to people “licking faces” instead of kissing and being part of one another’s “packs.” And, while Bailey, in his various forms, has a desire to help C.J., he’s not really sure what his help entails unless it’s playing various types of games like chasing and biting his tail. (However, Bailey does figure out how to show displeasure with one of C.J.’s companions by conveniently forgetting his potty training.)


A Dog’s Purpose was directed by Lasse Hallstrom, whose resume includes two Oscar nominations for Best Director and a host of other awards. He managed to make Bailey’s adventures sufficiently dramatic and emotional to overcome the sappiness of the main plot. A Dog’s Journey, on the other hand, is directed by Gail Mancuso, a T.V. sitcom veteran making her feature film debut. The difference is startling. Mancuso consistently goes for the most obvious punchlines, whether comic or dramatic, and exaggerates whenever she can for effect. The result is a movie lacking subtlety, and, without the level of writers she enjoyed on shows like Modern Family, much dramatic impact.


I suspect that people’s reactions to A Dog’s Journey will vary in direct proportion to their love of dogs. Any of W. Bruce Cameron’s works begin with an immense appeal for those who already adore man’s best friend (and who are far more likely to pay money to see these movies). For them, the cutesy shots of all the Baileys and theme of doggie karma may be enough to allow them to buy into the film. I love dogs as much as the next person, and I enjoyed Josh Gad giving life to Bailey, but I could not overlook the manipulative, by-the-numbers plot that seemed to have been assembled by a group of first-year film students. The plot holes are more evident in scenes without Bailey, and, A Dog’s Journey just has a few too many of them. It’s not a dog of a movie, but it can’t quite capture any sort of show trophy.

In this featurette, the cast and crew of the movie discuss their love of dogs.

Read other reviews of A Dog's Journey: 

A Dog's Journey (2019) on IMDb