A Dog’s Way Home, 2019.
Directed by Charles Martin Smith.
Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Ashley Judd, Alexandra Shipp, Jonah Hauer-King, Edward James Olmos, Wes Studi, Chris Bauer, and Patrick Gallagher.
A dog travels 400 miles in search of her owner.
There is no hesitation in calling A Dog’s Purpose a below-average film, but for all of its manipulative doggie death, there was still a rather satisfyingly emotional ending emerging from a somewhat creative narrative framework, a debate on sadism notwithstanding. A Dog’s Way Home is even worse, foregoing an unorthodox children’s plot grounded in reincarnation in favor of a bargain bin version of Homeward Bound that is less inspired and more generic than the direct-to-video sequels that followed that timeless family-friendly classic.
This time around Charles Martin Smith occupies the director’s chair (he’s in familiar territory here, having directed a pair of Dolphin Tale movies and the original Air Bud, you know, before studio executives ran that franchise into the ground having the dog play every sport known to mankind multiple times over), but from the formulaic and bland unfolding of the story, one can’t be faulted for assuming that the novels these films are based on switched authors. Alas, A Dog’s Way Home is once again based on a book from W. Bruce Cameron, who also co-writes the screenplay again with Cathryn Michon, the latter of the two feeling more present as the style of telling the actual story and dialogue still remains fairly similar to the first film.
Bryce Dallas Howard voices Bella, loosely classified as a pitbull which causes problems with her owners (Jonah Hauer-King as a young animal rights activist and VA employee Lucas, who also lives with his former military mother Terri, as played by the always reliable Ashley Judd, incapable of living alone but happily available to watch over the pup when no one else is around) and an unnecessarily uptight and stingy police force that would rather threaten to impound the dog, eventually euthanizing it if it is caught running around the neighborhood a certain amount of times, for no real reason other than outdated logic that this dog must be rabid and violent because of its breed. Not so subtly, the script draws one or two comparisons to racism with the situation, but A Dog’s Way Home is more concerned with the inevitable separation and journey back home, providing numerous silly scenarios along the way, to actually make a statement about anything worthwhile.
While searching for a suitable home outside the restrictions of this overblown police force (Edward James Olmos leads the pack, and cartoonishly so), Bella is dropped off with a friend who allows the dog to escape by both extreme stupidity and plot convenience. I realize there are a lot of movies that would never actually happen without one character making a fatal mistake, and sometimes the movies that still come from such a mishap still wind up very good, but here you just want to roll your eyes and leave the theater.
While finding her way home, Bella also befriends a baby cougar that she assists in finding food (among other things) following a pack of hunters murdering her mother (it’s nice that the film condemns hunting, but it’s also done so in the most in-your-face way that it ends up meaning nothing). Said baby cougar is completely rendered in CGI and a quite ghastly creation, looking somehow more distracting than the nonstop visual glitches that kept occurring (this wasn’t the film’s fault, the projection simply wasn’t working right). Another dog also comes into the picture, and I shit you not, at one point in this movie a small dog causes a catastrophic avalanche that injures a human and creates a perilous life or death chase sequence. The tagline for A Dog’s Way Home states that “a lot can happen between lost and found”, operating as a threat leaving audiences wondering what contrived event could possibly occur next before the obvious, overly sentimental ending (made even more cloying with terrible feel-good songs that persist throughout the entire movie).
As previously mentioned, Bryce Dallas Howard takes over doggie voice acting duties, essentially doing the same thing Josh Gad did the first time around. The narration revolves around lazy fish out of water humor that sees Bella attempting to figure out what humans are commanding or asking of her. This cutesy inquisitive portrayal once again wears thin quickly, revealing that Bella actually has no character. Furthermore, sometimes the narration makes such obvious comments that I wouldn’t be surprised if a seven-year-old got an angry feeling as if A Dog’s Way Home was treating them like they are a dumb animal. That’s also a shame as I could see a few parts of the movie functioning as legitimately entertaining if the dialogue were stripped away, leaving viewers observing rather than listening to Bella state the obvious. There is a game Bella and Lucas play called “Go Home” to avoid being impounded by authorities; it’s a game I wanted to play around 20 minutes into the film.
Clearly, A Dog’s Way Home was not for me, but I suppose if you’re the type of person that loves dogs so much you don’t care how generic and eager to please a film about them is, you will find some enjoyment. I would also argue that such a niche fan base deserves better, and should throw on Isle of Dogs another time, provided they haven’t already seen Wes Anderson’s beautifully animated and fantastic love letter to canines.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com