By Laurie Coker
Garth Stein’s transparent, yet touching tale and Kevin Costner’s gravelly voiceover of the canine lead in The Art of Racing in the Rain offer a breath of fresh air in a season fraught with dismal dramas and over-blown action thrillers. Regardless of the formulaic story ploys, director Simon Curtis manages to rise above the clichés and heartstring-pulling, predictable sentimentally, to garner dog/man bro-mance that brings laughter.
Milo Ventimiglia and Amanda Seyfried star as the humans (Denny and Eve Swift) in The Art of Racing in the Rain, and they do an excellent job of it. Denny races cars and he chooses the runt of a road-side litter as part of his pit crew. He names the puppy Enzo and the pair becomes inseparable – at least until Eve shows up. Her addition to the team doesn’t change the dynamic, even though at first, it looks as it might. Denny loves racing, Enzo, and Eve. Eventually, Enzo warms to Eve, and the trio becomes a family, and here the story takes a predictable path that might have dragged the movie down. Enzo learns the intricacies of life through his interaction with Denny and time spent on the tracks.
Costner, an avid animal advocate, and dog owner has the heart and soul of a dog as he voices Enzo. There is a certain crustiness to him that ads to the character of the dog – one that creates an immediate connection to the audience. Indeed, the script and source material, provide the words but Costner’s raspy, slow and beautifully paced narration moves the tale along like a smooth ride on the perfect track. Ventimiglia deserves credit as well. He demonstrates attentiveness to his costar that makes it surprising that the actor doesn’t own a dog of his own.
Even with its overt efforts to induce tears – and for some, it does – The Art of Racing in the Rain is ultimately a feel-good film. The first few minutes will rip at the heart of any longtime dog lover. Then it turns into a sweet story about the love and dedication between a man and his beloved best buddy. It earns a B- in the grade book. Bring the tissues to the theater, or better yet, watch this one at home snuggled up with a four-legged friend.