The Reel Review
This film adaptation of the 2008 novel by Garth Stein is the story of Enzo, a dog longing to be reincarnated as a human, and his relationship as the loyal canine companion to his race car driving, dog dad Denny, who learns to apply skills learned on the racetrack in his own life when faced with tough times.
From a cancer diagnosis to an outrageously unfair child custody battle, director Simon Curtis (Goodbye Christopher Robin, Woman in Gold) foregoes subtle and more meaningful storytelling, instead choosing contrived extremes in this overly manipulative tearjerker. The dogs that play Enzo (especially as a puppy) are unbearably adorable and raspy-voiced Kevin Costner works as the voice of Enzo only because he is telling the story as a flashback. The slow moving story, however, misses out on several opportunities to truly bond Enzo with his humans, often making him look more like a spectator in his own story. It also opts for cheap tricks, including one distractingly bizarre, CGI-generated scene with a dancing stuffed zebra. (Yup, you heard that right.) Amanda Seyfried draws out the waterworks as the sweet wife who encourages Denny (a forgettably bland Milo Ventimiglia) to keep pursuing his racing dream. Kathy Baker is, as always, terrific as Denny’s conflicted mother-in-law Trish.
While nowhere near the league of such weepy dog classics as Marley & Me and My Dog Skip, The Art of Racing in the Rain still gets the job done for us dog lovers, triggering tears through this ridiculously maudlin story’s eye rolls. Its message, about the importance of bearing down through life’s tough moments, is a nice one, as is its sweet, albeit predictable, ending.
• Garth Stein’s inspiration for his New York Times bestseller came from his own experiences as a race car driver in Seattle and from watching the 1998 Mongolian documentary State of Dogs, about the belief that dogs eventually are reincarnated as humans. Ironically, Stein retired from racing after crashing while racing in the rain.
• All the shots of Milo Ventimiglia in the Turner Motorsports M4 GT4 were filmed on a stationary airbag suspension rig with a blue screen background. Pros did the actual driving.
• Originally Patrick Dempsey was set to star in the film, which is the first 20th Century Fox film since its acquisition by Disney.