Thanks to the success of A Dog’s Purpose, movies about the inner thoughts of dogs are becoming very popular. There are a number of books written about the subject, and some take some very creative approaches to it. Whether or not they are fully successful varies from film to film, but there’s no denying that the audience for a movie like this won’t be going away for a while. Now, the latest attempts (mostly) to take a more serious approach to the concept, in The Art of Racing in the Rain.
Taking the reigns of this dog film is Enzo (Kevin Costner), a dog who has been adopted by an aspiring racer named Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia). In his life, Enzo believes in an ancient, Mongolian belief that if a dog has fulfilled its purpose, they will be reincarnated as a human. Enzo has made it his life goal to be there for his owner and do whatever it takes to fulfill his purpose so he can move on like he dreams.
As a puppy, Enzo is fully enthralled by Denny’s fast-paced life. Even though he is a dog, he feels like he was born to be a racer. Things become complicated for him, however, when Denny meets and marries a young woman named Eve. Their lives together are filled happiness and tragedies. Soon it becomes harder for Enzo to handle than he originally anticipated, but if he is going to fulfill his existential goals, he will have to do whatever it takes to be there for his family.
A Dog’s Purpose currently stands as the only good movie about a dog’s inner voice. The other’s that followed always seem to pale in comparison to it. Though this film had the potential to stand above, it ultimately falls flat on its face. The Art of Racing in the Rain aims for uplift, but crumbles under the weight of a plot that never figures out what it wants to be. It suffers from major tonal problems, unlikable human characters, and a lack of focus on the one thing its story is supposed to follow.
The major problem that comes from this movie is its tonal issues. The film was billed as a more dramatic take on its subject matter, and for the most part, the movie seems to try and do that. However, this film still retains a sense of humor, with Enzo spitting out one-liners here and there. This causes the jokes and the film’s intended atmosphere to clash and it makes for a very confusing feeling. We aren’t quite sure how to feel about what’s going on.
The almost hilariously ironic thing about this movie about a dog is that the dog has almost nothing to do with the story. Much like A Dog’s Journey earlier this year, Enzo doesn’t provide much in the way of progressing the story. He’s just there to comment on things like a dog (adding to the tonal problems). Aside from that, he doesn’t provide anything of true wisdom, and mostly just acts as the comic relief, despite being the central character.
Because the dog seems to hang at the sidelines of his own movie, we’re left with the generally unlikable and considerably loathsome human characters. Portrayed by actors not at their prime, the human characters do nothing that makes us want to root for them. They range from plain stupid to surprisingly manipulative. And as the story goes along, they never truly learn from their horrible actions. It’s rather unpleasant.
The Art of Racing in the Rain has noble intentions, but chooses to do nothing with them. It undermines it’s saddest moments with out of place jokes. Enzo’s most philosophical moments are ruined by his normal, dog-like comments. The human characters do nothing that gives us a reason to root for them. In the end, it’s hard to watch a movie that never gives us any reason to keep watching.