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Film Reviews—‘Good Boys’ Lives Up To Its Name, ‘Racing’ Is A Close-To-Earth Dog Movie

Keith L. Williams, Jacob Tremblay and Brady Noon in "Good Boys."
Enzo and Milo Ventimiglia in "The Art of Racing in the Rain."

Posted Friday, August 16, 2019 - 2:46 pm

By Adam Sherman

Good Boys Will Be Good (Even Though the Boys Aren’t)

Ever since 2007’s Superbad, most teen sex comedies have used their basic “teens seek (sexy) fun-times” premises to springboard into deeper characterization, with Booksmart being the most recent example. As such, it was only a matter of time until there was a variant of this story focusing on pre-teens. And thus we come to Good Boys.

And as the title of both this review and the film itself suggests, it is indeed pretty good.

On the eve of his first kissing party, 12-year-old Max (Jacob Tremblay), along with his friends Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) panics over never having kissed a girl before. The trio try to learn more by using a drone to spy on a teenage couple making out. Unfortunately, things go wrong and the drone gets captured. Desperate to get it back before the party and Max’s father gets home, the trio undergo a series of hijinks and bad decisions while coming to terms with their changing friendship.

Honestly there’s not much bad to say about this film. All of the actors do great in their roles, with the tween trio in particular standing out. While this film has plenty of r-rated hijinks, there’s also a rather wholesome and whimsical overtone to it all that doesn’t compromise its more serious moments. Really, if anything, I wish there was more.

If there are any issues with the film, its that the supporting cast come off as one-dimensional and the film could’ve benefited from giving them some more depth.

Ultimately though, you could do worse for a summer comedy.

8/10

Good Boys is distributed by Universal Pictures and hits theaters today.

The Art of Making A Closer-to-Earth Dog Movie

Most dog-led live-action features tend to take a rather saccharine tone, with the animals in question speaking in dopey tones and with simple vocabulary and terminology. Even when said films tackle more serious subject matter – such as parental neglect in A Dog’s Journey – the dogs tend to maintain their dopey, somewhat naive dispositions. This isn’t a condemnation, but a simple fact, given that an animal would be unlikely to possess the same perspective and ability to contextualize a situation as the human characters would.

The Art of Racing in the Rain… is not that kind of dog movie.

Based on the 2008 novel by Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain focuses on the family trials and tribulations of race car driver, Danny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia) – from the perspective his dog, Enzo (Kevin Costner). Enzo believes in a Mongolian legend that a dog “who is prepared” will be reborn as a human in their next life. As he prepares for his own passing, Enzo reflects on all the experiences he and Danny have gone through.

While some content was cut from the novel for the sake of a PG rating, Racing in the Rain doesn’t really suffer for the losses. It mostly holds well to its “reflections on past actions biopic” tone in spite of what its premise might lead others to believe. This can be attributed to two main factors: Kevin Costner’s vocal performance and writer Mark Bomback (War for the Planet of the Apes, Outlaw King).

Rather than affecting a cutesy voice like Josh Gad in A Dog’s Purpose/Journey, Costner imbues Enzo with eloquence, wisdom, and spirituality befitting an old master. While his vocal performance might sound flat at first and unenthusiastic at first note, it actually manages to convey joy, regret, resignation and contentment where appropriate, given that the film is essentially Enzo’s reflection on his past in his final days. If anything, one could compare this to a spoken word version of Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt.

Good acting can only take a film so far though, which is where Bomback comes in. His experience in turning the Planet of the Apes franchise from “post-original laughingstock” to genuine acclaimed sci-fi drama comes into play here. He manages to make Enzo far more aware of what is going on while still within a reasonably limited perspective one would expect from a dog. At times, Enzo can come across with a similar disposition to Planet of the Apes‘ Caesar.

Sadly outside these two outstanding elements – and Amanda Seyfried, who pours so much effort into her role and truly deserves heftier material –  the rest of the movie doesn’t stack up. Most of the characters come off as flat, there are some moments with a “demonic” zebra that feel out of place, and the ending goes on a little too long past a point that would’ve capped the film off poignantly. That doesn’t make this a bad film by any stretch, just one where you might feel wanting more.

If anything, one could draw comparisons between The Art of Racing in the Rain to this year’s earlier The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot – films that suggest something shallow, but ultimately disguise a deeper humanity. Future animal films should take note.

7.5/10

The Art of Racing in the Rain raceed into theaters Aug. 9 and is distributed by Walt Disney Motion Pictures*.

*Amusingly enough, the film rights were initially Universal Pictures’ until they handed it off to Walt Disney, which ultimately handed them off to 20th Century Fox… which Walt Disney ultimately acquired.

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