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story.lead_photo.caption Very good boy Enzo (voiced by Kevin Costner) is keeping his eye on Eve (Amanda Seyfried), a potential love match for his Formula One race car driver buddy in Simon Curtis’ The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Director Simon Curtis (My Week With Marilyn; Goodbye, Christopher Robin) is determined to make audiences cry.

That's the wrong approach for The Art of Racing in the Rain, a movie that already features a loyal dog and some human fatalities. Unless you think viewers hate cute puppies or keep a running body count, you really don't have to work that hard to tug on a viewer's heartstrings.

The Art of Racing in the Rain

72 Cast: Voice of Kevin Costner, Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, Martin Donovan, Gary Cole, Kathy Baker, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, McKinley Belcher III

Director: Simon Curtis

Rating: PG, for thematic material

Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

Curtis, however, seems determined to make the music swell at every moment something sad happens. While bells might have made Pavlov's dogs salivate, music and other forms of manipulation can be off-putting if they distract from the story instead of enhance it.

In more subtle hands, the story could have been a winner. A struggling racer named Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia from This Is Us) has adopted an adorable dog named Enzo (voiced by Kevin Costner) who keeps him company and even accompanies him on test runs.

While Denny's surname implies -- or should I say "advertises loudly"-- that he has some skill behind the wheel, capable Formula 1 drivers sometimes need a little luck to make it to the winner's circle. Even with the support of a wise track owner (a tragically underused Gary Cole), Denny's visits to the big tracks come fitfully.

That doesn't stop him from falling in love with a teacher named Eve (Amanda Seyfried) or from having a daughter named Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) with her. Eve's protective dad (Martin Donovan) is understandably concerned about Denny's profession. Only a few racers ever make a living at it, and the odds of Eve becoming a widow are high.

Enzo, who happens to be named after racer and entrepreneur Enzo Ferrari, sees all of this and renders his opinion on the subject. Actually, viewers never get a pit stop from his constant spray of platitudes. Working from Garth Stein's novel, Costner's Enzo weighs in on every subject like a drunken relative who can't switch the subject.

Screenwriter Mark Bomback, like W. Bruce Cameron (whose books and movies include A Dog's Purpose), tells the story from Enzo's point of view, which should not be a bad thing. Anyone who has ever spent time with a Seeing Eye dog knows Man's Best Friend can be intelligent, observant and endearing company.

Bomback does churn out a few canine bon mots, but he doesn't seem to have as clear a handle on what a dog might think about the people around him. The musings about the finer points of a Formula 1 track seem a little out of Enzo's frame of reference despite his name. These are the sort of things that Ventimiglia or Cole, not Costner, should deliver.

It also might have been more fun to experience what it's like to be behind the wheel of one of those cars. While the tracks are merely backdrops, it might have been easier for viewers to identify with Denny if we could feel the same rush or fear.

I have struggled with a phobia of dogs since childhood, but reading books about them and learning about what they are like and what they can do has made me want to get past my irrational fear. Perhaps Curtis would have made a less sappy and overbearing film if he knew that people who have my phobia were going to watch it.

Formula One racer Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia) adopts a very good — if somewhat talkative — puppy in The Art of Racing in the Rain.

MovieStyle on 08/09/2019

Print Headline: The Art of Racing in the Rain

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