A Dog’s Way Home is as ridiculous as it gets
As an actor, Charles Martin Smith once played a fictionalised version of the real-life writer Farley Mowat in Never Cry Wolf, a sometimes strenuously realistic Arctic adventure. The role must have made an impression: As a director, Smith made The Snow Walker (2003), an Arctic survival tale also based on a Mowat story.
Some of Smith’s feel for landscape and animal life resonates in his latest directorial effort, A Dog’s Way Home, which is adapted from a novel by W. Bruce Cameron, whose A Dog’s Purpose was made into a film in 2017. Not to break this particular puppy on some perverse auteurist wheel, but Smith also directed Air Bud, about a basketball-playing dog, and there’s a touch of that here, too.
The new movie’s scenario mixes a large number of heartstring-pulling tropes: abandoned animals, war veterans with PTSD, a socially awkward male protagonist who adopts a suddenly motherless half-pit-bull whelp in a town where the breed is outlawed, a painful separation.
And so, the dog, Bella, must make an arduous trek. Arduous — and weird.
Along the way, Bella, who is played by a real dog and is given the voice of Bryce Dallas Howard, “adopts” a young cougar that’s entirely a CGI creation, complete with overexpressive eyes. The pair have to fend off wolves more than once. (If you’ve ever wondered what The Grey might have been like if Liam Neeson were a dog, you must see this movie.)
As ridiculous as it gets, and that’s plenty, A Dog’s Way Home manages to serve up a one- to two-hankie finale, depending on the extent of your dog-person-ness.