‘Art of Racing in the Rain’ drives forward on dog story

Enzo is a great name for a dog.

And the Enzo in this movie is a golden retriever who lives up to that name. He’s a loyal, protective, and caring dog, with an inner monologue given voice by Kevin Costner. It’s a little jarring at first when you hear Costner’s voiceover while Enzo is a puppy, but you get used to it as the movie goes on, and we find out that Enzo is quite the philosopher of the dog and human experience.

Anyone who has read the 2008 book by Seattle author Garth Stein already knows this. It’s also one of the things holding this movie back.

Enzo essentially narrates the book, and you really get to see the world through a dog’s eyes and understand his need to be reborn as a person. It propels the story along through all of the ups and downs of his owner, aspiring race car driver Denny.

But in the movie, the power of the dog’s story doesn’t shine through as much as the human drama we are seeing on screen.

We see Denny, played by Milo Ventimiglia, struggle with his dreams, and career, as he meets his future wife along the way (Amanda Seyfried), starts a family, and finds himself in a struggle to hold on to that family.

Enzo understands all of this far too well, but because he is a dog, there’s not much he can do, and his frustration mirrors the viewer’s frustration with this story as well.

The moments when Denny explains how negotiating a racecar in the rain, is similar to negotiating the twists and turns of life, is a moment from the book that translates beautifully.

The director, Simon Curtis, does a yeoman’s job of putting this story on screen and has great actors in big and small roles to support his vision, including all of the goldens that play Enzo at various points in his life.

The emotional punch of Enzo’s world, something most readers remember so well from the end of the book, doesn’t quite land on the big screen.

But when you’re done watching this film, you may reconsider what is going on between the ears of your favorite pet, and find a way to bring them as much joy as Enzo gets in the passenger seat of a swift-moving car.