Tag Archives: D+

A DOG’S JOURNEY

Producer: Gavin Polone
Director: Gail Mancuso
Writer: W. Bruce Cameron, Maya Forbes, Cathryn Michon and Wallace Wolodarksy
Stars: Josh Gad, Kathryn Prescott, Dennis Quaid, Marg Helgenberger, Betty Gilpin, Abby Ryder Fortson, Henry Lau, Ian Chen, Conrad Coats, Jake Manley, Daniela Barbosa and Kevin Clayton
Studio: Universal Pictures

D+

Cats are said to have nine lives, but W. Bruce Campbell’s weird tale of doggie reincarnation suggests that canines run them a close second. The story of Bailey, begun a couple of years back with “A Dog’s Purpose,” continues in this sappy sequel, and by the end he has completed eight. Viewers who embraced the first movie might find “A Dog’s Journey” just as lovable; others may find it an equally strange mixture of juvenile humor, mawkish melodrama and insufferable cuteness. It’s like an overeager puppy constantly demanding attention however he can get it.

In the first installment (which was directed by Lasse Hallström, here taking an executive producer credit), you may remember, Josh Gad voiced Bailey, who became the beloved pet of a young Michigan farm boy named Ethan, played by KJ Apa. The dog died after the kid went off to agricultural school, and proceeded through a series of lives as other breeds before making it back, as a big mutt, to his first master, now in the person of Dennis Quaid. Both were overjoyed to have found one another again.

“Journey” (directed blandly by Gail Mancuso) begins a few years later, after Ethan and his new wife Hannah (Marg Helgenberger, replacing Peggy Lipton) have taken in Gloria (Betty Gilpin), her son’s widow, and Gloria’s toddler daughter CJ (Emma Volk). Gloria is an unhappy young woman (and a dog-hater to boot), who stalks off with the kid in a huff, cutting off Ethan and Hannah altogether. When Bailey dies, Ethan asks his departing soul to look after CJ. It turns out to be a tough assignment, since Gloria proves a totally irresponsible mom, desperate to find a man and prone to drink too much.

No wonder the now-adolescent CJ (Abby Ryder Fortson) decides to adopt a beagle called Molly, actually the reincarnated Bailey, when her best friend Trent (Ian Chen) chooses Molly’s brother. She hides the pooch from her mother, who reluctantly allows the kid to keep her when she finds out (and CJ threatens to turn her in to CPS).

Skip ahead a few years, and CJ (now Kathryn Prescott) gets into trouble with a slimy boyfriend named Shane (Jake Manley), who literally drives her off the road after she’s broken up with him and had a final fight with Gloria. In the ensuing car crash. Molly emerges unhurt and begins a trek to points unknown as—you guessed it—an aspiring singer/songwriter. But Molly dies in the accident.

Not to worry. Bailey’s reborn again, this time as a huge mongrel that becomes the pet of Pennsylvania gas station owner Joe (Conrad Coates). Who should stop by the place one day on her way to New York but CJ, who drives off before Big Dog, as he’s now called, can catch up to her; but again he dies, and is immediately reincarnated as Yorkshire terrier Max, who somehow winds up at a NYC shelter where, inevitably, CJ adopts him.

She has a boyfriend in the city, but who should show up unexpectedly but Trent (now played by Henry Lau), who has a girlfriend on his arm but not for long. At this point “Journey” ventures into “Fault in Our Stars” territory as Max, remembering his training from CJ’s stint in community service way back when, sniffs out Trent’s cancer just in time to get him to a doctor so he can undergo life-saving chemotherapy. After he’s recovered (in a montage that makes the whole episode seem like little more than a bad cold), he decides to drive CJ back to reunite with her grandparents, and bent-over Ethan recognizes Max as his Bailey once more. By the time the movie ends, everyone is happy—even Gloria has reformed and returned to the family fold—though, of course, Max’s time with them all is limited. His work is done.

As can be discerned from this précis, “A Dog’s Journey” is as awash in coincidences as it is in jokes about gobbling up bacon from the floor and gags involving doggie-doo. Of course, perhaps some higher power is assumed to be directing the persistently reborn Bailey into running just as persistently into CJ, but that’s never made explicit. (It’s probably better that way, even if God is Dog spelled backwards.)

The humans in the cast play second fiddle to the canines, all of whom seem well-trained, but Prescott (who resembles a young Jodie Foster) is engaging, and though Quaid’s old-age version of Ethan is about as convincing as the late Tim Conway’s little old man, he brings the requisite gravity to the part. Gilpin comes on awfully strong as the mean-as-nails Gloria, but Lau is likable as the older Trent. As for Gad, he’s as ebullient in a gee-whiz way as he was the first time around, which one will find either charming or irritating, depending on your point of view. The picture has the glossy look of Disney live-action movies from the fifties, courtesy of Rogier Stoffers’ lensing, and Mark Isham’s score oozes sentiment.

One thing virtually everyone should be able to agree on is that after all his frantic lives, Bailey deserves a good, long rest. In other words, no third installment, please; this dog has had its day, and then some.

THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA

Producer: James Wan, Gary Dauberman and Emile Gladstone
Director: Michael Chaves
Writer: Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis
Stars: Linda Cardinelli, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez, Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Marisol Ramirez, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tony Amendola, Irene Keng, Oliver Alexander and Aiden Lewandowski
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema

D+

The so-called “Conjuring Universe” hits a new low (which, given its overall quality heretofore, is saying a lot) with Michael Chaves’ silly, borderline incoherent and largely fright-free take on the Mexican legend about a Medea-like bogeywoman doomed to stalk the earth waylaying children in search of the two sons she drowned in a rage over her husband’s infidelity. With only the most tenuous connection to the larger “Conjuring” world—an appearance by Tony Amendola as Father Perez from the first “Annabelle” movie—“The Curse of La Llorona” pretty must pretty much stand on its own—or more properly, fall.

After a brief prologue set in 1673 showing La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez) killing her two sweet boys, the script jumps ahead to 1973, apparently for no other reason than to allow for Father Perez’s involvement (“Annabelle” was set in the late sixties). Recently widowed Los Angeles social worker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardinelli) is tasked with visiting a client, Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velásquez), whose young sons Carlos (Oliver Alexander) and Tomas (Aiden Lewandowski) have been playing truant. She finds them locked away in a closet and Patricia frenziedly arguing that releasing them will put them in grave danger.

Of course Anna and the other authorities, including her late husband’s erstwhile partner Cooper (Sean Patrick Thomas), disagree, and take the boys into protective custody. Unfortunately, they are soon possessed by the hideously spectral La Llorona and drowned in the river. When Anna is called to the scene to investigate, her two children Samantha (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) and Chris (Roman Christou), whom she’s brought along in the back seat (no sitter apparently being available), are accosted by The Weeping Woman, whom the vengeful Patricia has asked to target them.

Thus begins the “exorcist” portion of the story, as Anna, on the recommendation of Father Perez, persuades Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), an ex-priest turned local shaman, to come to her home to protect her children from the fearsome spirit. What follows is what seems an endless series of jump scares as La Llorona indulges in assaults on the spunky kids, each accompanied by the obligatory burst of sound effects and a musical punch from composer Joseph Bishara.

There are apparently no real rules about what La Llorona can or cannot do—she shows up wherever and whenever she feels like it, though she can be warded off when it’s convenient for plot purposes (at one point by the simple expedient of rolling up a car window) and toward the close the house is supposedly rendered off limits by sprinkling seeds from a special tree across the threshold. That last prohibition sets the stage for probably the most egregiously stupid decision taken by one of the characters in the course of the movie, though there are so many—the kids, for instance, repeatedly fail to respond while Anna is creeping through the hallways calling their names—that by the time this sequence rolls around, dragged out in a vain attempt to generate some suspense, you’re more likely to be smirking or yawning to take much notice.

There are a few elements in “Curse” that deserve a smidgen of praise. Cruz manages a couple of spaced-out moments and bizarre line readings that earn a chuckle or two, and Christou shows promise as a kid forced to step up when things go very wrong. But Cardinelli and the rest of the cast can be praised only for gamely keeping straight faces as the absurdity mounts. The effects are okay by today’s standards, and Michael Burgess’s cinematography uses light and shade to create a spooky atmosphere, even if the constant employment of thunder and lightning for shocks and mood grows tiresome (and ridiculous, when the storm suddenly abates to allow for an outside scene). But Melanie Jones’s production design and Sandra Skora’s set decoration are drab, affording little sense of period beyond the placement of rotary phones near the center of many of the images, and Peter Gvozdas’ editing goes bonkers attempting to stir up some energy (even the rush-to-the-school-bus sequence at the start is pointlessly complicated).

Whether the curse associated with La Llorona falls more heavily on the filmmakers or the audience is an open question, but this movie about her is a pretty much a mess that certainly does not bode well for the continuing expansion of this cinematic universe.