First Hit: Although, at times, cute and pointedly created to pull the heartstrings, it was also boringly long and misguided.
Having a dog, I was looking forward to seeing this film about a dog finding its way back home.
It started cute enough with a group of cats and a mother dog living in an abandoned building across the street from Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and his mother Terri (Ashley Judd). The warning though is that the voice over begins and it will only get worse.
Terri is an Iraqi war veteran with PTSD and is a volunteer at a local VA hospital. Lucas works at the center and has been feeding the cats underneath the abandoned building. By feeding them, he’s keeping the cats alive, which also stops the tearing down of the abandoned homes by the owner.
The owner of the building gets stymied from building on the ramshackle lot because of the animals living on the premises. When animal control comes and thinks they’ve removed the animals, what they miss is a mother cat, some of her kittens, and a puppy who was still nursing from its mother.
The puppy, voice by Bryce Dallas Howard, is now being taken care of a mother cat who nurses it. At times it's funny to watch as the dog grows more massive than the momma cat. These dog and cat scenes are setups for later.
Lucas and his girlfriend Olivia (Alexandra Shipp) find the puppy and Lucas decides to keep it. Because the home Terri and Lucas live is doesn’t allow pets, they must be careful in raising the puppy, now named Bella.
Some of these scenes are cute, as were the scenes when Lucas sneaks Bella to his work because the house owner is coming to fix something in the home they rent. When Bella stumbles into a PTSD meeting of vets, of which Terri is one, the vets love Bella and Bella provides comfort as the soldiers speak about their war experiences.
The film sets up the premise of Bella finding her way home because a mean animal control officer is intent on capturing and euthanizing Bella. In the city of Denver, pit bulls are not allowed in public because they’ve been deemed as dangerous. Bella is suspected of being a pit bull although no one proves this. To keep Bella safe until he can find a new home Lucas sends Bella to live with Olivia’s family four-hundred miles away in New Mexico.
Just as Lucas travels to New Mexico to pick-up Bella, Bella was hearing her inner voice to go home, escapes and begins a long trip to find Lucas.
During this trip, Bella becomes friends with and protects a “large kitty” (it’s a cougar). During their travels together, they fight off wolves, get separated by cross-country snow skiers, and finally meet up again.
It’s during this segue of Bella’s trip home that I got bored. We spend at least 20 minutes with two men who take care of Bella and another dog, whose owner doesn’t want, only to have Bella leave and try to find Lucas and maybe “large kitty.”
This film is predictable, poorly constructed, and many scenes were only designed to make the audience feel something. This point, of making expressed emotional scenes, in itself, isn’t a bad thing, however when it’s this obvious, it a detriment to the film and demeaning to the watcher.
Hauer-King was poor. He seemed overly simple and not one who honestly thinks things through. His acting had no depth of character. Judd was outstanding as the PTSD mother. I loved her holding the wrist of the animal control officer – entirely in control of the situation. Shipp was steady as the girlfriend. She was believable in her scenes. Howard was nauseatingly childlike as the voice of Bella. As a puppy the voice was OK, and as Bella grew up, the voice didn’t change to reflect a maturing of the dog. Cathryn Michon wrote a very week script. Multiple scenes could have been shortened or removed (the whole segue with the gay men). W. Bruce Cameron did a poor job of directing this. The acts with the animal control officer were too overt and not realistic, nor were the scenes with “large kitty” and Bella on the ice.
Overall: Although the concept was good, the story was poorly constructed and overtly created for emotions.