‘The Art of Racing the Rain’ review

‘The Art of Racing the Rain’ review

Hailing from the same studio, featuring “This is Us” star Milo Ventimiglia (braving the don’t-work-with-dogs-and-children warning) and Kevin Costner as the voice of his furry friend, the movie labors to bring gravitas to Garth Stein’s novel, with the soulful mutt reciting what sounds a whole lot like slightly esoteric dog poetry.

“Gestures are all that I have,” the dog, Enzo, muses about his uncooperative dog tongue when it comes to communication, while saying of his owner, Ventimiglia’s Denny, “I was meant to be his dog.”

At first an adorable puppy, Enzo grows up with his person, a race-car driver who becomes his constant companion, until Denny meets a girl, Eve (Amanda Seyfried), provoking first jealousy and then protectiveness.

Directed by Simon Curtis (“Goodbye Christopher Robin”), from an adaptation written by Mark Bomback, “The Art of Racing” becomes a rather sad affair for an extended stretch, working from the notion that life — and for that matter, death — is what happens while the dog is watching you. Eventually, that gives way to a protracted melodrama that adds higher stakes to the movie, which lopes along at a leisurely pace for too long.

For better and ill, Ventimiglia’s character hews pretty closely to the earnest, saintly everyman he plays on TV — in a show also renowned for making people cry — that has made him the latest version of America’s dad, only with a more impressive workout regimen. The main tension, meanwhile, involves Eve’s parents (Kathy Baker, Martin Donovan), who disapprove of Denny and earn Enzo’s disdain.

It’s all pretty tepid, thinly drawn stuff, relying on an underlying spiritual component (which surely played better on the page) and the added bonus of providing a dog’s-eye-view of the world — if, that is, said dog could think deep thoughts and dispense near-oracular wisdom.

Obviously, this movie is designed to appeal to a family audience — one that’s often hungry for relatively mild, undemanding fare — and needs to be considered on those terms.

Yet even with the occasional dollop of dog-related humor, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” feels as ponderous as its title. While there have been plenty of movies that touch the heart through the relationship with our four-footed friends, if this one doesn’t completely hit the skids, nor is it close to being the pick of the litter.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” premieres Aug. 9 in the US. It’s rated PG.


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