Dennis Quaid in A Dog’s Journey (Photo: Universal)

★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Gail Mancuso
STARS Dennis Quaid, Kathryn Prescott

The 2017 movie A Dog’s Purpose (based on W. Bruce Cameron’s novel) suffered from the very nature of its premise, which is that its pup protagonist gets reincarnated several times as it keeps trying to get back to its original owner. Reincarnation is nice and all, but who the hell wants to watch a dog die repeatedly over the course of a movie? It’s hard enough witnessing the dog pass away of old age at the end of a couple of its lives, but seeing one mutt get euthanized and another get shot point blank in the stomach isn’t this dog lover’s idea of a good time.

Still, A Dog’s Purpose isn’t without its charms, most provided by its canine stars. Josh Gad as the voice of the dog proves to be a bit much, but the pooches are fun to watch and the story is actually fairly engaging until its heavily schematic third act. Not so with A Dog’s Journey, the sequel that became inevitable once its predecessor grossed a respectable $65 million stateside and an impressive $140 million elsewhere around the globe.

Picking up a few years after the original ended, A Dog’s Journey finds Bailey (again voiced by Gad) growing old alongside original owner Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and Ethan’s wife Hannah (Marg Helgenberger, replacing the late Peggy Lipton in the role). Also living with them is Hannah’s widowed daughter-in-law (Betty Gilpin), described not inaccurately as “the worst mother in the world,” and her little girl CJ (Abby Ryder Fortson, instantly recognizable to Marvel fans as Paul Rudd’s daughter in the Ant-Man flicks). Ethan charges Bailey with always looking after his granddaughter, so after the elderly mutt gets put down (again), he’s reincarnated as various dogs all sharing the mission of keeping an eye on CJ (played in her older years by Kathryn Prescott).

It would be easy to glibly describe A Dog’s Journey as a remake of A Dog’s Purpose rather than a sequel (watch adorable doggies routinely meet their demise!) except for the fact that the focus no longer is on the canines as much as it’s on the humans. Bailey is still the connective tissue, but more emphasis is placed on the travails of CJ and those in her life, rendering this a stale melodrama that doesn’t exhibit much bite, much bark, or, really, much of anything.

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