Cute dogs rarely lose.
But the golden retriever named Enzo in “The Art of Racing in the Rain” is a bit too pompous.
Voiced by Kevin Costner, Enzo also sounds a bit too jaded for a dog so happy. Still, that’s what makes this overly talky dog film build to a big tearfest.
Picked by an aspiring race car driver named Denny (Milo Ventimiglia), Enzo is the perfect companion, willing to watch racing videos, go for long rides and hang out at the track. He gets in a snit when Denny finds a girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) and the two fall in love. Luckily, Enzo gets over his jealously long before the girlfriend’s parents do. They don’t like the tenuous nature of his job and think their daughter could find someone better.
Naturally, the two get married, have a child and, then, have to deal with a life-altering situation – one that prompts the snooty parents to claim custody of the couple’s daughter.
Director Simon Curtis leans into all the usual clichés before steering Enzo into an exit that truly does deserve the tears.
Seyfried doesn’t do anything here that she hasn’t in six or seven other films but Ventimiglia is able to capitalize on his “This Is Us” nobility and find another way in to a heartbreaking story.
Luckily, Curtis doesn’t overdo the racetrack scenes and shows just enough of Seyfried to make you think she was dealt a rotten set of parents. But he doesn’t tamper enough with Costner’s raspy narration.
Overwritten and underplayed, the dog’s thoughts use those smarty references Robert James Waller tossed into “The Bridges of Madison County.” They sound like they come from a deep Google search and don’t really add to the drama. Instead of letting the cute dog suggest what he’s thinking, this one has to deliver a valedictory on everything from tapeworms to dogs in Mongolia. At times, it’s way too much, particularly since the rest of the film is pitched at a relatively stress-free level.
What Curtis and company don’t seem to address is the lack of seatbelts in Denny’s car. It’s noticeable when he’s driving his daughter; it’s even more pointed when he takes Enzo for racetrack ride in a Ferrari (and, yes, that car has them).
Because those heartless relatives are sneaky (and able to manipulate the law), they prevent their son-in-law from leaving the country to race. That means no money and a series of unfortunate events that involve folks everywhere but Mongolia.
When “Racing in the Rain” gets to its inevitable conclusion, tears fall – uncontrollably. Enzo has laid the track, so to speak, and reaps the reward.
Still, there’s no art to this film, just a lot of familiar curves before the finish line.