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Review: Sentimental 'The Art of Racing in the Rain' predictably melodramatic

Courtesy of Fox


Does anyone age in this movie? Was a constant question that kept creeping through my brain during the weepie “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” a film adaptation based on the best selling novel by Garth Stein. Years fly by throughout Simon Curtis’ film and yet nobody appears to age, except the charming golden retriever at the heart of the story. If these people have made a scientific discovery regarding the ability to avoid aging, I’d assume many would like to hear the mathematics behind it.

That golden retriever would be Enzo, voiced with a raspy inflection by Kevin Costner, who exists as an omniscient narrator overseeing all the action in “Rain” and somehow can understand the idea of reincarnation, or religious ideologies because he watched a few documentaries on TV. He’s also wildly vivid and detailed in this description of daily activities (“I could smell the day on him. Motor oil, and roast chicken”). Thanks for that insight Enzo.

On paper, this is essentially “Marley & Me” but with race cars, but despite the bright spot of one cuddly pooch, the film manages to squander many opportunities to dig deeper into its characters, and instead serves as an unsurprising montage of endless life lessons.

Part of the problem is how most of the story is told through our canine companion’s eyes, and how the first two thirds of the film are devoid of any conflict. Instead, it sets up the hook, where a promising race car driver Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia from “This is Us”) picks out Enzo as a rascally puppy who then foretells Denny’s upcoming career as a race car driver. Which then takes a backseat when he meets his eventual wife (Amanda Seyfried) and it’s not long before a little one is running around poaching on Enzo’s precious territory.

The reminder of the film checks all the boxes of a Hallmark or Lifetime channel sappiness. Including a melodramatic court showdown that could’ve been lifted from any soap opera on television right now (or better, “This is Us”). Except the film doesn’t know how to actually portray tragedy with real emotional weight, it manipulatively goes straight for the heartstrings without stopping to figure out how people would behave in these situations.

Curtis’s injects some soul into the film, with the occasional spice of an intense race scene, but “The Art of Racing in the Rain” is predictably heartwarming, and really just an average movie about a dog who stands by idle commenting on all the action. As adorable as Enzo is, I never felt Costner fit the voice, the canine shows no warmth and the actor struggles to find balance in his portrayal.

That said, judging by the audible sobs from around me, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” at least suckered some folks into feeling emotional (I was moved, against my better judgement, on one occasion). So if you find yourself easily fooled by cute animals or you’re one of the many fans of the novel, I bet there’s something here for you. For anyone else, as the saying goes: you can’t teach a dog new tricks.

Grade: C

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