If there was a film that never demanded a sequel but still somehow managed to finagle one thanks to greedy studio executives it would be Lasse Halstrom’s A Dog’s Purpose, a film that proved perfectly pleasant upon release but lacked any draw outside of the obviously family-friendly dog story. The novelty of its tale of re-incarnation but from a dogs perspective made for an interesting if uninvolving watch that never really managed to connect with an audience outside of the cutesy dog community. A Dog’s Journey continues the story, for no good reason I might add, and now the novelty of this ageless dog is gone, instead, leaving you with a film that, much like the dog, just won’t move on.
When Bailey (Voiced by Josh Gad) finally finds his way back to his owner Ethan (Dennis Quaid) life is seemingly perfect for him but when Ethan and partner Hannah (Marg Helgenberger) are separated from their granddaughter CJ, (Katheryn Prescott) Bailey sets out on another journey across lives to protect CJ and those closest to her.
While it is overly simplistic to burden every single film about a dog as sacharine, overly shmaltzy storytelling that toys with our stereotypical affection for ‘mans best friend’, I don’t think there is a film that does it so clumsily as A Dog’s Journey. Be it pity or elation, the emotions of this crass follow up are entirely built around another film with anything new ripped straight from a real-life article or a story that works better as an idea. Even this years A Dog’s Way Home managed to craft a story with at least a couple compelling characters, here Bailey and only Bailey is of interest and that might be saying too much.
Moving the story to a character with ‘tragic back story’ tattooed on her forehead for everyone to see, CJ is the definition of a plot device. Her sole characteristic (shes a passable excuse for a musician) gives no hidden layers, no depth despite making it easy to transition from overly floral music designed to make you weep for people that you can’t help but forget. Quaid might not be having the best year with Midway being a career-low for him but he makes the overly pushy reincarnation elements, which were acceptably pleasant in the original, seem at least tolerable here.
Throw in an unfortunate cancer plotline, a painful finale filled with contrived dialogue about faith and belief and an overabundance of lifeless ‘action’ and you have a film far too enamoured by ideas, less so by the actual execution. In short, Bailey might have found his Purpose, but someone ruined his Journey.