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Australia

Every dog has its say in likeable sequel

Two and a half stars

Director: Gail Mancuso

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Kathryn Prescott, Henry Lau

Rating: PG

Running time: 109 minutes

Verdict: The movie equivalent of a good tummy rub

The tricks are familiar, and the anthropomorphic dialogue is pretty ruff, but once you agree to roll over, this shaggy dog sequel scratches all the designated spots. The story takes up pretty much where Lasse Hallstrom’s 2017 crowd-pleaser, A Dog’s Purpose, left off.

Ethan Montgomery (Dennis Quaid) and his beloved St Bernard-Australian shepherd cross, Bailey (Josh Gad), have settled into an easy, amicable routine on the farm Ethan inherited from his grandparents. They share the wicker chairs on the porch of their two-storey, white weatherboard house with Ethan’s childhood sweetheart, Hannah (Marg Helgenberger, who replaces Peggy Lipton in the sequel), her widowed daughter-in-law Gloria (Betty Gilpin), and their cute-as-a-button granddaughter CJ (Emma Volk).

But when the dog-phobic Gloria has a run-in with her in-laws, she piles a distraught CJ into the back seat of her car and drives off, severing all ties. Not long afterwards, Bailey comes to the end of another life (he’s pretty accustomed to the process by now, having been reincarnated many times).

And at this point, Ethan gives him a new “purpose” — protecting CJ. Living alone with her neglectful, alcoholic mother, the poor kid is going to need all the help she can get. This time, Bailey comes back as a female beagle, Molly. In an extraordinary stroke of good fortune, Molly spots CJ (Abby Ryder Fortson) through the window when she accompanies her best friend Trent (Ian Chen) to the house.

Molly gets CJ through a difficult childhood, but even she can’t stop the now-headstrong high school senior (Kathryn Prescott) from hooking up with the wrong guy.

That mistake eventually leads to a car accident in which the loyal beagle loses another life.

There’s a fleeting encounter between CJ and the outsized English Mastiff Bailey returns as, but it doesn’t amount to much. But when he comes back again — as a tiny Biewer Terrier named Max — Bailey fits right into the struggling singer-songwriter’s Manhattan lifestyle.

With his massive “small dog” attitude, Max helps CJ to sort out many of her problems. And successfully reunites her with Trent (Henry Lau), who is now a wealthy professional (his current girlfriend pushes her dog around in a pram so it’s clear that relationship won’t last).

A Dog’s Journey is surprisingly eventful — we haven’t even touched upon cancer dogs, chemotherapy, squandered inheritances or emotional reconciliations here.

But no matter how bumpy the road gets, there is never any doubt that it will eventually lead back to the farm house with its dappled streams and fields of golden wheat. With fewer subplots, the sequel focuses a little more on the key human characters than its predecessor.

But a large part of the fun is still derived from watching Bailey’s transformation from breed to breed, along with the character traits that accompany each incarnation.

Viewed from a dog’s perspective, life is pretty simple — and unapologetically romantic.

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