Released: 23rd March
Seen: 28th March
It’s slowly starting to feel like the mortal enemy of this reviewer is dog-based films. No idea why, dogs are better than people and are truly precious on every level so surely just telling a story about a cute doggie doing cute doggie things should be enough to make for a nice movie but it seems like it’s just not to be. Films that use dead dogs as a plot point, boring but overall fine stories about police dogs and even films about dog shows that end up being pulled from cinemas to remove a joke that people compared to child grooming have all come out in the time that this blog has existed and every time the film is either irritating or bland or irritatingly bland. So, where does Dog Gone fit in? Honestly, it’s harmless… harmlessly bland.
How bland are we talking? The entire plot of Dog Gone is “Family dog goes missing, the family goes to find dog”. That’s it, the dog apparently has an illness that requires a monthly shot so there’s a ticking clock of some form and the son slowly stops eating because he’s also getting sicker so they have to find the dog as soon as they can but the story is just about a family looking for their lost dog. The family in question are the main son Fielding (Johnny Berchtold), his father John (Rob Lowe), and his mother Ginny (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) who has a traumatic backstory about her own childhood dog. With that information, you can basically work out the entire structure of the film, from boring start to boring attempt-at-a-dramatic ending.
What’s kind of stunning about Dog Gone is that it’s almost actively trying to be uninteresting, you can feel it resisting the urge to actually make the interesting choices or show anything that could be considered dramatic in favour of just a few scenes of the family driving around or talking on their phones. It’d be too interesting to actually watch a character fall over and hurt themselves, we have to hear about how they fell over later on. Interesting might be getting to see the consequences of certain actions but we don’t, we move on and talk about how those actions could’ve gotten the main character in trouble if they’d been caught (and they never come close).
On top of that, this film about a lost dog does the one thing that any film about a dog should never do… leave the dog out of the film for almost half the runtime. Seriously, the dog goes missing at the 30-minute mark and then pops back up in the final 15 minutes. We never cut away from the father and son to see what the dog is doing (the entire thing that makes these films at least somewhat tolerable), we never have any notion of the dog being alive or not or just where they went. They vanish and then they reappear with nothing in between, meaning we get to spend more time with the boring family of boring people that make up the main cast.
Since the bulk of Dog Gone was about this family of three you would hope that maybe they would be in some way interesting to make up for them not being adorable doggies but no, they’re boring. The son is portrayed as a useless millennial with no aspirations and worthy of mockery, the dad is constantly throwing out bad jokes and being a standard Rob Lowe character and the mom spends most of the film isolated from her family in a command centre that happens to be in the family kitchen for most of Dog Gone and she occasionally has flashbacks to when her own dog died (flashbacks that are the most hilariously dramatic things you will ever see).
All of these characters could be interesting if they were allowed to do anything of value but they aren’t, it’s just an upper-class family who is so financially well off that the idea of being fined is a mild inconvenience to them. This is a family that doesn’t have anything interesting to offer an audience, and we’re stuck with them for an hour and a half of bad jokes and uninteresting drama… and also some stunningly bad editing, good luck trying to figure out where everyone is because they have magical editing teleportation powers that means any sense of scale is impossible to understand. You can’t tell where everyone is, therefore you can’t tell how close they might be to finding the dog or even how far from home they are.
Now you might argue that Dog Gone is not about the dog but actually about the bonding of a father and son, after all those are the two characters that spend the most time together and that seems to be the plot of the book (because this is based on a book… because someone wrote a book about that time their dog went missing for a few weeks) but no, it’s not. At very least if that is the point of the book, it’s poorly conveyed since the father and son basically get along fine from the moment the movie starts and at worst the dad just worries about his son starting his life… you know, like a father. There’s nothing abusive or overly worried or some great disconnect, they’re fine at the start and they’re fine by the end.
There is no actual growth in their relationship or arc to their story, half of the time they aren’t even together because the dad just drops the kid off at the Appalachian trail, then drives home to be with the mother before going to pick the kid up 10 hours later at a different area of the trail… and we never follow the kid along this trail. They get maybe a few car rides to ‘bond’ but even then they’re not doing anything, there isn’t some revelatory moment where the dad realises his kid will be fine because the kid was fine the entire time and at best was having the standard “I don’t know what to do after college” thoughts. Without that growth, there is nothing to actually latch onto story wise and it definitely feels like they wanted to try and lean on the cuteness of the dogs because they literally have a montage of all the cast members holding their dogs over the credits. Sadly, it fails at both things it’s trying to do, leaving the film with nothing worth watching.
Dog Gone somehow pulls off the impressive task of failing to deliver on the promise of a cute doggie movie… we can’t even get enough of a cute doggie to make it worthwhile. The human characters are so dull that it’s not even worth knowing their names, it’s filmed like they were only able to grab the rehearsal take before moving on and it has all the emotional excitement of filing your taxes in a calm orderly fashion. You could just watch a couple of dog videos on YouTube and get much more enjoyment out of it than you would out of this… uh… wait, what did I watch again? I was so bored I’ve genuinely forgotten what is going on.