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A Dog's Purpose

Love never dies, nor does the four-legged hero of Lasse Hallstrom's emotionally manipulative family drama. Based on the novel by W Bruce Cameron, A Dog's Purpose bounds through decades of American history, tightly leashed to a sentimental mutt (voiced by Josh Gad), who is reincarnated as different breeds, but never forgets the smell of his first owner. "Are we here for a reason? Is there a point to any of this?" the pooch wonders aloud. The point to Hallstrom's picture is to traumatise dog-loving audiences and the Oscar-nominated Swedish filmmaker encourages a deluge of saltwater tears with repetitive scenes of man's best friend saying farewell to distraught owners. Gad's soothing omnipresent voiceover, which is less excitable than his scene-stealing turn as singing snowman Olaf in Frozen, underscores the sobs with gentle humour. "That was the worst shot I ever got," he quips after one dog takes a bullet protecting his master from harm. The imbalance in running time devoted to different sets of humans keeps most of the characters at arm's length and there is a gnawing predictability to the film's dewy-eyed final destination. Golden retriever Bailey (voiced by Gad) has a brief first life in the 1950s - he is captured by men from the local dog pound and put to sleep. In his second incarnation in 1961, he is rescued from a dangerously hot truck by eight-year old Ethan Montgomery (Bryce Gheisar) and his mother Elizabeth (Juliet Rylance). They persuade Elizabeth's hard-drinking husband Jim (Luke Kirby) to keep Bailey and Ethan enthusiastically trains the dog, mastering an acrobatic trick with an American football. Ethan blossoms into a strapping high school senior (now played by KJ Apa) and falls head over heels in love with classmate Hannah (Britt Robertson). They date with Bailey as an enthusiastic chaperone. A near fatal incident at the family home changes the course of Ethan's life and he is forced to say farewell to Bailey. In subsequent incarnations, Bailey is a German Shepherd called Ellie and partners lonely Chicago police officer Carlos Ruiz (John Ortiz), and a Corgi called Tino, who facilitates a love match for Atlanta college student Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). Fate eventually reunites Bailey - now a Saint Bernard - with Ethan (Dennis Quaid) but the master is a world-weary shadow of his former self. A Dog's Purpose barks a familiar tune, with a couple of daring rescues that would have made Lassie wag her tail with pride. Scenes of animal cruelty are inferred within the bounds of a PG certificate, while Gad's silky vocal performance trots a thin line between mawkish and amusing. "Why did I eat so many meat logs?" he laments after one animal wolfs down copious hot dogs. Audiences may be more reluctant to swallow Hallstrom's sugary film.