What is a dog’s purpose? In Lasse Hallström’s take on W. Bruce Cameron’s canine POV novel, it’s to distract you from a dizzying, at times painful array of contradictions by looking soulfully at the camera. At heart, it’s a Hindu saga, picking a doggie’s soul (gamely voiced by Josh Gad) at an arbitrary point in its endless cycle of reincarnations and following it through five bodies (and owners). The great lesson is mindfulness and contentment. No, wait: at heart, it’s a Christian drama, in which paradise — aka one’s true home — is lost and sought. The great lesson is love and being known by the beloved. The dog understands human speech (“Is there more bacon?”) unless he doesn’t (hot dogs are, tee hee, “meat logs.”). The dog understands human emotion (“I didn’t want her to be sad”) unless he doesn’t (a furious, drunken father “always talked loud when he smelled this way,” a depressed teen “never wanted to play any more.”) There is heroism and pathos (a dog taking a bullet for its owner), but it’s actually just a punchline’s setup (“I always hated getting shots.”) Whatever a dog’s purpose might be, the movie’s purpose is clear: to make you smile and say, “Awww.” Woof. (2017) — Matthew Lickona
This movie is not currently in theaters.