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Do “Gold” & “A Dog’s Purpose” Serve One?

January 27, 2017


I saw two movies last night, Gold and A Dog’s Purpose, and before my friends from PETA jump all over me for supporting a film that allegedly allowed animal abuse, let me just say: I paid for only one of them and snuck into the other. Okay, so the one I paid for was A Dog’s Purpose, but I feel like I’ve already been punished for my transgression, as both films are — to put it in puppy parlance — ruff sits.

The spectacularly ill-conceived A Dog’s Purpose (based on W. Bruce Cameron’s best-seller and adapted for the screen by him along with four other credited co-writers ranging from The Truth About Cats and Dogs‘ Audrey Wells to Infinitely Polar Bear‘s Maya Forbes) follows one canine’s soul through five lives. That’s right, a movie that has been marketed squarely to kids makes you watch adorable doggies DIE FIVE TIMES. It’s as if Disney remade Bambi but just kept replaying the scene of the deer’s mother getting fatally shot over and over again.

That’s not the only inappropriate aspect of A Dog’s Purpose, directed by Lasse Hallström, who must’ve felt like his Collie-esque first name has damned him to a destiny of making dog movies of decreasing quality, from the Oscar-nominated My Life as a Dog to Richard Gere’s shaggy-dog story Hachi: A Dog’s Tale to this mutt. He gives his cast way too long of a leash, allowing Luke Kirby (a fittingly heavy presence in Sundance TV’s slow-moving, serious masterpiece Rectify) to depict the alcoholic father of the dog’s first owner way too realistically, particularly in contrast to Josh Gad’s gag-inducingly cutesy voiceovers of the furball’s internal dialogue.

Good actors who get stranded in this wet sack of dog crap include Ray Donovan‘s aptly named Pooch Hall (sporting a tragic Jeri-Curl in an ’80s sequence), The Job‘s John Ortiz as a Chicago cop whose K-9 companion gets SHOT AND KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY, and Dennis Quaid and Peggy Lipton, who don’t show up until the film’s last 20 minutes. As remarkably well-preserved as Mod Squad vet Lipton is, it’s still shocking to see an age-appropriate love interest for the craggy Quaid, especially given that he’s dating a 30-year-old model in real life.

Were the makers of A Dog’s Purpose cruel to animals? I can’t answer that, but I do know they were cruel to human beings for expelling this flaming turd into theaters.

Gold, by contrast, is a precious commodity, as it marks the official end of the McConaissance. By now, you all know the story of Matthew McConaughey, who grew tired of making empty rom-coms like Fool’s Gold and threw himself into a series of gonzo roles, most notably losing 40 pounds (and winning an Oscar) as an AIDS activist in Dallas Buyers Club. For Gold, he gained them back and then some, packing on the lbs. in inverse proportion to his receding hairline to play a fictionalized version of a prospector who repeatedly got rich and lost it all during the go-go ’80s.

The trouble is, the more McConaughey tries to stretch himself into alter egos as far from his good-looking, good-‘ol-boy real-life persona, the more he resembles… Matthew McConaughey: seemingly inebriated and prone to irritatingly rhyme-y catchphrases (“Make it happen, cap’n!” “Let’s make the dolla holla!”) as well as occasional bird sounds. We’ve seen him pull these tricks in previous films like The Wolf of Wall Street, to which Gold owes a major debt.

It’s the fool’s gold version of a Scorsese flick. In this case the fool is director Stephen Gaghan (screenwriter of Traffic), who strands such stellar supporting actors as Corey Stoll, Bryce Dallas Howard, Bill Camp and Stacy Keach in one-dimensional roles as he allows McConaughey to chew the scenery, among other things, and Hands of Stone‘s Edgar Ramirez to give another stolidly dull turn as his business partner.

There might be a good movie hiding somewhere in Gold‘s hills, but this Weinstein Co. wouldn’t-be Oscar contender feels like it’s got the fingerprints of Harvey Scissorhands all over it. It seems to start in the middle — Craig T. Nelson, in a crucial role as McConaughey’s dad, dies before the opening credits — and there’s so much narration explaining the plot that you wonder if it’s not just summarizing scenes that ended up on the cutting-room floor. Maybe that’s where they should’ve left the whole movie, right atop the droppings of A Dog’s Purpose. To para-catchphrase McConaughey, I wanted to JKL: Just Keep Leavin’!

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