By: Felix Felicis (Six Pack) –
I haven’t been this sad and disturbed in equal measure after watching something since I saw Shape of Water back in 2017 and, when creatures from mother nature got fucked over in *that* movie, they were at least given hard-boiled eggs and a bath first. Going into this after reviewing A Dog’s Purpose (also in 2017) was a mistake worse than any time I’ve ever said “yes” to bangs during a haircut or “just one more drink, what’s the worst that could happen?” (the second yes usually comes before the first) because I thought, naively, that A Dog’s Way Home would be yet another schmaltzy-but-watchable ode to the love between man and fluffy puppy. I was, amazingly, *more* wrong than the last time I had faith in humanity (which was back in 2016) and got a broken government serving a fast-food buffet to college athletes while we fight about which side of history to (not) build a racist wall on during the longest government shutdown in American history… instead of the first female president breaking the highest glass ceiling in our country’s history. Sure sure. Fair trade.
A Dog’s Way Home follows just one dog this time through a harrowing-as-shit, Homeward Bound, right-wing ripoff journey from pit-mix puppy (oh just you fucking waaaaaait for this theme to get ground into your retinas like cinematic pinkeye because IT WILL, RELENTLESSLY, WITHOUT MERCY) to living with a moderate, educated, middle-class family. “Bella” voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard (in what I can only assume is a blackmail pact resulting from proof of a murder spree back in high school senior year – someone *still* knows what she did that summer) is adopted by Dimpled Someone living at home with his PTSD-stricken (but, like, only a little so she’s still super relatable and functional enough for plot points) mother, Ashley Judd, to an almost three-year-journey from Arizona back to Colorado (only stopping to rescue avalanche victims from death, genteel-yet-outdoorsy-L.L. Bean-esque gay men from loneliness, be hunted relentlessly by a pack of coyotes, and, oh yeah, raise a FUCKING STRAY COUGAR TO ADULTHOOD – BECAUSE WHY NOT – BEFORE DODGING CARS LIKE A DEMENTED VERSION OF FROGGER IN TIME TO REUNITE WITH DIMPLES AND THE SCOOBY GANG OF VETERANS). Nope. Breathe. You can do this. Remember your happy place.
I won’t lie to you, this movie was ruff. I bribed an emotional teapot (tip her over and tears pour out) of a friend into going with me with free tickets so I wouldn’t have to endure this flick solo and I honestly feel like a real fuckface because A Dog’s Way Home was pure, unfiltered, emotional torture porn. Hostel for dog lovers. Saw for kitten enthusiasts. It was the Knock Knock of coyote aficionados and I’m pretty sure I took a Wrong Turn somewhere in a past life to deserve this.
The best, and simultaneously worst, thing about A Dog’s Way Home is that there was a kid who couldn’t have been more than eight-years-old sitting to my left and – as fucked up as this movie left my mature psyche – at least I’m not going to need as much therapy as that poor bastard will. Also my tickets were free and I definitely, maybe, probably didn’t get tetanus during this Spiritual Sequel (which is what I now call every movie that reminds me of another movie – don’t blame me, blame M. Night Shyamalan who Gywneth Paltrow’d (consciously uncoupled) that phrase into existence to tie Split into a trilogy-verse. Spoiler Alert: yours truly gets to review that, too) to any Nicholas Sparks movie ever. I’m on to you, Bruce Cameron IF THAT’S EVEN YOUR REAL NAME, because even money you’re three tiny Nicholas Sparks’s stacked on top of each other in a trench coat pretending to be one whole, much larger, Nicholas Sparks who has been ghost-writing these paw-ful movies for the last few years.
I don’t even know where to begin. After my last Bruce Cameron movie, which was blandly predictable and emotionally manipulative (though largely benign), I was fairly certain A Dog’s Way Home was going to be something similar (yet another schmaltzy Homeward Bound rip-off)… I. Have. Never. Been. More. Wrong. If the first FIVE MINUTES of this movie doesn’t a) traumatize you, b) cement the fact that humans and, weirdly, coyotes, are ABSOLUTE GARBAGE FILTH and c) make you dead-sprint to the nearest animal shelter to adopt pets in a grocery-store Heisman Sweep then you’re a robot sent from the future to destroy mankind and/or write the “spiritual sequel” to A Dog’s Way Home. It’s a spastic roller-coaster of emotionally disturbing peaks coupled with preachy, two-dimensional, moralistic valleys from start to limping (literally) finish.
Due to the tone-deaf emotional anosmia (yes, anosmia) this film confidently forges blindly ahead with, watching Dog’s Way is a lot like being slowly, agonizingly, waterboarded to death in staggered intervals. Sure, your captors give you time to recover with cute(ish) vignettes of Bella bonding with a series of interchangeable characters before something heinous, fucked up and/or heinously fucked up happens to remind you (in the most obvious ways) that there is Good and Bad in the world and only the pure of heart (or Pit of Bull) can overcome it. Dog’s Way is, spectacularly (and in the most terrible way) both the preachiest *and* worst example of virtue-signaling-wrapped-in-moral-superiority-and-pretentious-misuse-of-patriotism-in-cinema I’ve seen in awhile. Maybe… ever? I don’t know. Ask me again when the immediate trauma of this experience has worn off.
I have no problem with exploring social or political issues using the medium of film (The Purge franchise is low-key one of the smartest examples of layered political satire around and I’ll die on that hill) but if your platform/film furthers a cheap stereotype of the issue you’re highlighting then you’re not only failing to respect your audience on the most basic level, you’re insulting both them AND whichever demographic you’re pandering to. The picture A Dog’s Way Home paints of veterans is ignorant at best and willfully insulting at worst. Dog’s Way also doesn’t do great things for animal control officers (most of whom serve out of genuine desire to assist both their communities and animals alike) or nature enthusiasts (honestly the first time I’ve ever been disappointed an avalanche DIDN’T kill someone). Almost no one escapes being used as a two-dimensional stereotype (more on that later) in this movie and that includes the (unintentionally) hilarious Underhanded Property Developer Character and- oh my god how did I not include this in my Toast because this guy was, ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND PERCENT, the best Mean Jeff Bezos parody I’ve ever seen. I mean, aside from Jeff Bezos himself.
I’m gonna keep it one-hundred with y’all, dearest readers, and admit that I did not read the novel before going to see A Dog’s Way Home and, after a quick dip in the research pond, that may actually have saved the last bit of my (questionable) sanity because HOLY FUCK DOES BRUCE CAMERON COME OFF AS AN ABSOLUTE TWATWAFFLE. Just read this interview he did here about his book/movie adaptation. This man has the wit of a comatose cucumber not to mention the work ethic of one as well. M’ufucker, how are you gonna portray the (genuine) plight of forgotten veterans in our country with what reads as an afternoon visit to a VA center, skimming a pamphlet and doing a brief Google search?! Is… Is this even real life right now? I feel like “Daniel After Dentist” and, to be honest, I’ve felt that way since about Fall of 2016.
To be absolutely fair, Cameron carries this authenticity throughout the interview; stating he chose pitbulls as the (fairly) maligned breed in the movie because (and I’m paraphrasing here) he “met a couple and they were really nice” YEAH THEY’RE DOGS THAT’S THE DEFAULT SETTING – THEY’RE ALL GOOD DOGS, BRENT. Like that’s the canine equivalent to saying you’re not racist because you have FOC (friends of color). Birch, please (I’m never not thinking about how The Good Place taught me so many new options for everyday swearing). Also, Cameron takes “based on a true story” to watered down levels so extreme they come with a doctor’s warning to avoid direct sunlight. “I’ve read stories about dogs traveling great distances to go home” OH MY GOD I LITERALLY CANNOT EVEN – HEY FUCKFACE WATCHING ‘BALTO’ AND ‘HOMEWARD BOUND’ SO YOU CAN RIP THEM OFF DOESN’T COUNT AS READING YOU GREAT, HULKING ASHHOLE.
Now, I tweaked out about that to tweak out about this: A Dog’s Way Home suffers from a critical lack of depth, well-rounded characters, or a complete (I’d even take barely coherent) narrative and after looking into the source material I can see why. A half-baked idea rarely translates into a whole-baked reality. And if we can assume anything about Bruce Cameron, we can probably assume he’s SOME kind of baked at all times based on this half-assed, conservative values propaganda cookie he’s shoving down audience throats like an insane Girl Scout desperate to get that last badge for selling all the cookies, ALL THE COOKIES EVER (I’m assuming there’s a badge for that). The dialogue isn’t worth mentioning but it suffers from the same lack of creativity and depth so two-dimensional I can only assume a fleet of flat-earther gerbils wrote it while (ironically) running on their hamster wheels. *Checks IMDB* Oh wait, Bruce Cameron adapted the screenplay (alongside Cathryn Michon) so, yeah, that tracks. I mean, at one point Olivia shouts “This is like racism for dogs!” upon finding out Denver has had a running vendetta against Pitbulls since 1989 (and they actually kind of do). But what it isn’t, is a good enough reason to be casually throwing around a word like “racism”. I don’t think that word means what you think it means (in this context), Olivia.
Speaking of two-dimensional stereotypes, pretty much every character is a ghost of an outline of a shallow caricature of what an actual human being with depth and complexity would look like; so much so that I can’t even remember anyone’s name in Dog’s Way Home other than Bella (and that one only made the cut because it was being shrieked onscreen every five minutes). I remember them solely by their most obvious attributes. We have Dimpled Metaphor For Compassion (male lead *peeks at IMDB* Jonah Hauer-King who plays *peeks again* Bella’s owner, Lucas), Female Counterpart And Love Interest (Olivia? – whatever her name is – played by Alexandra Shipp), Damaged But Just Functional Enough Veteran Mom, Terri (played by way-too-good-for-this, Ashley Judd) and Mean Jeff Bezos (literally cannot find the actor credited for this role, no great loss there).
There’s no balance to be found in Dog’s Way, only the most extreme north or south pole of human behavior and it’s distracting AF. You have saints who rescue animals and have no earthly flaws other than faultless generosity of spirit toward animals and then on the other (extreme) end of the spectrum you have a wilderness hiker reunited with his dog – after it saved his life during an avalanche – with irritation directed at Dutch (the dog) FOR BEING HAPPY TO SEE HIS PERSON (because Dutch’s enthusiastic greeting causes the hiker’s injuries discomfort) and an animal control officer (played by Barry Watson) who gleefully pursues the capture (with his ultimate goal being Bella’s euthanization) of a mixed-breed Pitbull who, has not once, showed a HINT of aggression.
I can deal with a shoddy narrative, I can deal with tonal whiplash and I can even deal with dialogue so distanced from reality it was created in an alternate timeline in which this soul-sucking movie was never made (a better timeline) but I CANNOT deal with the fact that no one outside of Colorado – or geography enthusiasts – will be able to follow the timeline/distance covered of Bella’s journey home. The most you get is a vague passing of seasons and a city sign that pops onscreen every once in awhile. Sure, I’m VERY FAMILIAR with every city in Colorado so this makes PERFECT NARRATIVE/ILLUSTRATIVE SENSE. Okay, I was a ski bum in Breckenridge for a season a decade ago but I think we all know I wasn’t studying geography in my spare time.
A bleak survival story grafted onto the corpse of a badly animated slew of Disney-esque CGI wildlife as brought to us from the man who directed Air Bud (Charles Martin Smith), A Dog’s Way Home is a tilt-o-wheel of unmet expectations coupled with crippling existential ennui that didn’t even meet the extremely low bar by which I judge this genre. It tunneled directly under it, which is impressive considering how little anyone involved with this movie seemed to care about the final product and how much work it actually takes to tunnel under something.
The mental gymnastics you have to perform to justify anything A Dog’s Way Home did is monumentally staggering considering it managed to accomplish absolutely nothing of note or value. The social and political issues in this movie were all portrayed in the simplest and most palatable ways possible (as most social and/or political issues usually are, *pause for eye roll*). Veterans? All they need are some furry snugs from Dug. Easy Peasy. Thank u, next!
Inclusiveness in cinema? Get you some upscale gays (well-educated men who enjoy nature hikes wearing the entire L.L. Bean catalog living together but not in any way, shape, or form doing anything TOO gay – you know, like holding hands, kissing, or displaying wedding photos like other, more “traditional”, couples do in the movie *cough* LUCAS AND OLIVIA *cough*) so as not to upset the more bigoted animal lovers in the audience (if you squint when they’re onscreen you can pretend they’re “roommates” like Bert and Ernie). Nothing like a non-threatening nod to generic inclusiveness to pacify those whiny millennials, amirite? Lulz.
Animal rights? Well, we don’t actually have to solve that one, just Spartacus our way out of it by invoking federal jurisdiction/land rights at the last moment grouped together in front of the VA for maximum patriotism. Whew! Thought we might not think our way out of that one! I mean, A Dog’s Way Home resolved fuck all… but it was time for the movie to end so that was good enough to call it a wrap.
(Absolutely A) Beer Six
Recently I added a fun new segment to reviews so bad they need a little extra snark straight from the tap. Not all heroes wear capes, but some of them *do* wear sarcasm like a Snuggie while drinking boxed wine from a grown-up sippy cup. Enjoy.
You’d honestly be better off reserving your tickets to Captain Marvel this coming March and watching the new trailer to John Wick 3 on a loop until then than going to see this ham-fisted, emotionally manipulative, disturbingly traumatic right-wing wet dream. I may be calling this way too early mere weeks into the new year, but 2019 may have just delivered its worst movie pet, I mean yet, in A Dog’s Way Home. Sorry not sorry it had to be pun.
A Dog’s Way Home (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever someone explains about the Pitbull Ban. Take Two: if they’re a dick about enforcing it.
Do a Shot: for every winter Bella weathers away from home.
Take a Sip: anytime you hear someone say “Bella”, “Big Kitten”, and/or “Mother Cat”.
Take a Drink: each time something super depressing and/or traumatic happens. Pace yourself.
Shotgun Your Beer: when Bella gets her bell rung playing Frogger in the finale.