[su_dropcap size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap]f faith is “the substance of things hoped for in the evidence of things unseen,” then a dog’s unwavering love lies somewhere within words that can never be said. There is, in fact, a kind of beautiful poetry in that so much guileless affection and loyalty can be communicated without any verbal language. I think that’s my disappointment with The Art of Racing in the Rain and this year’s earlier release, A Dog’s Journey. Dogs are such expressive creatures on their own, that to adorn them with flowery human narration blunts a little of their magic. Rain rides the same schmaltz train as Journey and hits all the stops along the way, but I honestly think I would prefer it without the deluge of doggy narration. It’s a little ruff.
Denny (Milo Ventimiglia) is a studly Formula One driver in search of his big break. One day, Denny adopts a bouncy puppy and names him after Enzo Ferrari. The two become inseparable buddies, both at home and on the race track. Enzo’s world gets shook something fierce when Denny abandons the Bro Code and starts dating Eve (Amanda Seyfried). Much of the story centers on how Enzo (voice of Kevin Costner) must adjust to both Eve and their eventual daughter Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), and somehow come to love both of them. Throughout his life, Enzo offers wry observations on human behavior and provides a supportive paw whenever the inevitable complications arise.
Get ready, ’cause the movie cranks up the sentimentality all the way to 11. One of my favorite movie clichés is when a character gets the sniffles, it instantly means they’re dying of some horrible disease. It’s not the common cold. Or even the flu. Nope, whenever a character sneezes and says they’re fine, just be like WebMD and always assume the worst. This movie hits that trope and a whole lot more on its trip down Tearjerker Avenue: We get a dog in danger, an ugly court battle, and a father-in-law (Martin Donovan) so evil, he’s practically a member of that country club from Caddyshack. And don’t get me wrong, this film has moments that will get to you if you’re a dog owner or, you know, human at all. At the same time, there are just as many scenes where the filmmakers pour on the syrup and don’t know when to stop.
Corny or not, Racing in the Rain is made with tons of skill. Costner sounds like unfiltered Marlboro Reds as Enzo, and puts such a Rio Bravo spin on his reading that I half-expected his sentences to end with the word “pilgrim.” All this weathered gravitas is perfect for a dog who’s seen the world and learned a lot along the way. Ventimiglia does just fine as the emotionally-wounded hunk, and Seyfried is so likable that Eve can actually say, “I’m not much of a dog person,” and I don’t instantly despise her. Only Donovan, a pre-eminent character actor, gets wasted as a villain so one-dimensional, all he needs is a mustache to twiddle.
I’ve been a dog-owner all my life, and it’s beyond comprehension how these creatures come to love and understand us so well, often better than most humans. It’s a bond that’s somehow simple and mystical at the same time. The Art of Racing in the Rain wants to fluff all that up with a human voice, but I think that gap of communication is what makes owning a pet so special. We have to show them how much we love them, and they us. Maybe it’s not so much the words that can’t be said as the words we don’t even need to bother with in the first place.
109 min. PG.
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