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story.lead_photo.caption CJ (Abby Ryder Fortson) has a friend for the duration in a canine spirit pledged to protect her throughout his lives in A Dog’s Journey.

I'm happy to report A Dog's Journey is a better film than its predecessor A Dog's Purpose (which lost a lot of viewers after a leaked tape showing potential animal abuse on the film's second unit made its way to TMZ).

It's comforting to think the humans behind the sequel love dogs as much as people buying tickets for the film do. But there are still problems with the original that have made their way into its offspring.

A Dog’s Journey

76 Cast: Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Kathryn Prescott, Marg Helgenberger, Betty Gilpin, Henry Lau, Abby Ryder Fortson, Ian Chen

Director: Gail Mancuso

Rating: Rated PG, for thematic content, some peril and rude humor

Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Because the dog (voiced by Josh Gad) goes through a few lives during the course of the film, the stakes seem low. If the pooch gets sick or faces any danger, it will simply be reborn as a beagle or a Pomeranian. Whenever hints of danger start to appear, the dog is the last thing to worry about. It's almost like watching someone else play a video game.

At least this time around, there's a smaller cast of humans for the dog to support, and most of the people involved are friends or relatives. Ethan and Hannah (Dennis Quaid and Marg Helgenberger) now have a granddaughter named C.J. (played as an 11 year old by Abby Ryder Fortson and an adult by Kathryn Prescott).

Her mother Gloria (Betty Gilpin), however, doesn't care much for either the loving canine or her own child. Her husband died a few years before, so Gloria seems more worried about emptying booze bottles and trying to get her singing career to take off.

As she gets older, C.J. becomes a musician herself and seems to have her mom's shaky taste in men. The screenwriters, who included novelist W. Bruce Cameron, coin some appropriate dog-like things for Gad to say. Sadly, their on-camera co-stars seem to have been given the leftovers to work with. Gilpin's Gloria is an almost cartoonishly awful parent, and her beaus and C.J.'s appear to have been pulled off the rack.

Some of the cast seem to almost resent having to share the screen with four-legged castmates, and it's easy to see why. It would have been more interesting to hear some of Gloria's singing instead of hearing her moan about recording demos. Actually, we barely hear one song from C.J. It would help us care more if the dog succeeds at fixing people's lives if the people themselves were more believable than canine reincarnation.

Director Gail Mancuso has a long career on TV, but this is her first time handling actors on the big screen. Greater subtlety is required when you're not watching a film on an iPad. As Quaid's Ethan ages, his mannerisms and makeup get more stilted and theatrical. His thick glasses and graying hair already tell us time has passed. Mancuso practically dresses Quaid in an "I am decrepit" T-shirt.

As with A Dog's Way Home, A Dog's Journey takes a little time to explore ways that dogs can help people in ways we are only now beginning to understand. Learning how they can literally sniff out tumors is frankly more interesting than a plot recycled from a soap opera.

MovieStyle on 05/17/2019

Print Headline: A Dog's Journey

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