A dog (the voice of Josh Gad) seeks the purpose of life while experiencing several reincarnations with different owners. Rescued from a locked vehicle by young Ethan (Bryce Gheisar) and his mother (Juliet Rylance), Golden Retriever Bailey becomes the life-long family pet. He stays by the side of teenage Ethan (K.J. Apa) through his struggles with an alcoholic father (Luke Kirby) and a romance with neighbor Hannah (Britt Robertson). After this fulfilling life, Bailey's soul is reborn as a female German Shepherd police dog partnered with the lonely Carlos (John Ortiz), a Corgi adopted by college student Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and an Australian Shepherd/St. Bernard mix who ends up with
a farmer (Dennis Quaid). Throughout these lives, Bailey never forgets Ethan.

Aimed squarely at dog lovers, this sugary tearjerker misses the mark - but not by much. The doggone family adventure has pedigree behind the camera, which makes the end result disappointing. Director Lasse Hallström's ("Chocolat") screen adaptation of W. Bruce Cameron's best-selling book has some humorous moments and a happy ending, yet getting there through canine deaths is difficult for anyone attached to pets and will probably be traumatic to children. Thematic elements and peril earn this all-ages film a PG rating and there's that animal abuse cloud hanging over it. The viral clip of a dog being coaxed reluctantly into a pool of raging water on the set of this movie can't be dismissed. This video will cross your mind, as it did mine, when the water rescue scene appears on screen. But the film must be judged on its merits as entertainment. It never really rises above the level of a manipulative television weeper. The human cast is fine and it's nice to see Peggy Lipton (TV's "The Mod Squad") on screen briefly as the adult Hannah. There's even an actor named Pooch Hall, yup Pooch, in the cast. But those adorable canines, connected by Josh Gad's expressive voice, carry this fuzzy and uneven flick. While not quite a dog, "A Dog's Purpose" fails to achieve the goal of a classic like "Old Yeller". (2 CAMS)

Rated PG / Running Time: approx. 99 minutes

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