“The Art of Racing in the Rain” is a decent film. That is to say there is nothing really that bad or disparaging to say about Simon Curtis' tale about a dog and his race car driver, but neither is there much to praise either. It's a predictable tale full of moments designed to tug at the heartstrings and remind everyone of the saying that a dog is man's best friend. And it has the misfortune to be the “also ran” in its genre while not trying to contribute anything new to it.
The story starts with Enzo (voice of Kevin Costner), a young golden retriever puppy who is picked out of his litter by Denny (Milo Ventimiglia). Denny is a up-and-coming race car driver and Enzo is instantly fascinated by the track and the world of race car driving. Through the years, he watches the twists and turns of Denny's life and career, from victory and defeat to love and heartbreak, narrating and giving commentary on it all.
And … that's basically it. Obviously I won't give away the entire plot here, but basically the movie is just Enzo narrating the part of Denny's life that he shares. Unlike a similar “A Dog's Purpose” or “A Dog's Way Home” or “A Dog's Journey,” the main journey is not Enzo's, but Denny's, but we have to watch most everything from the narrator's rather limited point of view. There are the predictable dog-centric jokes, a combination of simple observances of smells, sounds and people from the canine perspective, as the story keeps moving on.
That's not to say the story is not worthwhile — fair warning this could be considered a tear jerker — but it also feels a little rushed. Standard beats for Denny and his family come at a rapid pace, so rapid that it's almost like watching someone's life using the fast forward button. There's a feeling that the script wants to hit precise notes from the 2008 novel the movie is based on, so everything else is just connective tissue to get us from Point A to Point B.
There are some interesting tidbits mixed in here and there. Enzo's recurring thoughts about a Mongolian belief about what happens to a dog after death, his own frustrations about the limitation of his canine form, and even his hatred of a stuffed zebra add some much needed flavor. However, it doesn't seem to add up to be as soul-searching or impactful as Bailey's journey from “A Dog's Purpose.”
And as much as I have enjoyed Kevin Costner across his career, I am not sure he was the best choice for Enzo. His low, gravely intonation can be a bit monotone and lack emotion. Ventimiglia and Amanda Seyfried, who plays his wife, are good actors and do a decent job of hitting all the right emotional notes.
As I said there is little to set this movie apart from others of its kind. It doesn't ever delve into groan-worthy territory, but neither will it exactly set the movie theater ablaze with its brilliance. It's a good movie, nothing more and nothing less. If you are a dog lover, or want something relatively light and “feel good,” then that might be more of a reason to see it. Otherwise, maybe staying home and spending time with your own four-legged friend is an equally valuable use of your time.
David Rookhuyzen is a freelance movie reviewer for the Sahuarita Sun.