Review: 'The Art of Racing in the Rain' a sloppy wet kiss of a dog movie
Who can resist cute dog stories, even if it is the centerpiece of a sappy film and the dog has Kevin Costner’s voice? Don’t allow a curmudgeon like me to rain on your parade.
“The Art of Racing in the Rain,” a sure-handed but predictable adaptation of Garth Stein’s best-selling 2008 novel, is a sloppy wet kiss of a movie that demands nothing more from its viewer than to engage and empathize. Awww!
There are life lessons, too, although they mostly come off as more cliched than inspiring.
The movie, narrated by Enzo the dog, is about Enzo’s master, aspiring race car driver Denny Swift (Get it? Swift? Race car driver? Yeah, it’s that kind of movie). Played with easy charm by Milo Ventimiglia (”This Is Us,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Heroes”), Denny is based in Seattle and drives the local circuits looking for his big break.
He picks up Enzo, a golden retriever, as a puppy and for years they are together. But the movie opens with an aging Enzo near death and their story is told, by weary Enzo, in flashback. Enzo doesn’t actually talk, of course, but the film is narrated by his thoughts, with Costner properly sounding more like Jack Albertson than “Bull Durham.”
Denny struggles hard to make it in a tough sport. But there are several of life’s pit stops along the way, beginning when he meets the lovely and vivacious Eve (Amanda Seyfried), who, to Enzo’s consternation, becomes Denny’s wife.
Eve and Enzo’s meet is way less than cute. “Denny was clearly taken with her grooming,” Enzo recalls. “She probably bathed every day for all I knew. I admit I loathed the attention he lavished on her, with her opposable thumbs and plump butt.”
The Art of Racing in the Rain
Drama. Starring Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried and the voice of Kevin Costner. Directed by Simon Curtis. (Rated PG. 109 minutes.)
Of course, eventually the old dog accepts Eve. He’s still Denny’s boy, but Eve is acceptable to be around, especially after they have a daughter, Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong as a youngster, Lily Dodsworth-Evans as a teenager).
“The Art of Racing in the Rain” takes a three-point turn, though, when tragedy threatens to tear apart the family. Other than to say the story is a bit shaky in this section, there will be no spoilers here, just words of advice: Bring tissues.
What keeps the film from devolving into manipulative sap is the sure hand of British director Simon Curtis (”My Week With Marilyn,” “Woman in Gold,” “Goodbye Christopher Robin”), an efficient and careful storyteller. Curtis and his team also get the details of the auto racing world mostly correct, providing highlights from great Formula One races from throughout history (that Denny and Enzo watch on TV) and getting some excellent footage of Denny’s races at tracks around the U.S. (including, in one brief scene, Sonoma Raceway).
One complaint: Curtis’ apparent insistence on Denny racing with his helmet shield up. Does Denny have a death wish?
Why is it called “The Art of Racing in the Rain”? Well, that’s Denny’s specialty. He’s fearless because he “creates his own conditions” in the rain, rather than let the rain dictate his approach to racing. He’s good at not living in the past or focusing on the future, but planted firmly in the present, his eyes on the road ahead.
There you go.