The Art of Racing in the Rain (PG, 109 mins)

Director: Simon Curtis

Stars: Kevin Costner, Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried

Two stars

AN introductory scene in this thoroughly bizarre family drama clues us in on the kind of sentimental film we should expect to follow, as we meet Enzo, an old and possibly dying dog lying a puddle of his own making, waiting for his human to come home. How do we know these details? Because Enzo, as voiced by a gravelly Kevin Costner, is narrating the movie.

The dog, you see, has a soul, so we flash back to Enzo as a puppy, being selected from the litter by Denny (Ventimiglia) a racecar driver with a gift for, well, racing in the rain, and dreams of making it big in Formula 1. The early days are all adorable expressions and puddle accidents as Denny takes the dog everywhere with him, mostly the racetrack.

So far, so daft, but the cheesy nonsense of the plotting kicks up a notch when Eve (Seyfried) shows up and Denny balances driving and family life. For such a supposedly great driver, he doesn’t seem to be having much success although, mercifully, we’re not subjected to too much racing, in the rain or otherwise. It’s a metaphor, you see, but we’re still saddled with a clunky title the likes of which you’d only end up with if it were based on a book (which it is, by Garth Stein), aligned with the type of storytelling you can probably only get away with in novel form.

Enzo is forced to utter lines that border on the farcical, delivered with deadly sincerity by Costner, and you have to wonder if he could believe he was saying it, as the pooch talks about how much he learns about racing and life yet doesn’t seem to understand human behaviour when the plot or a gag requires it. The stuff the dog isn’t privy to is soap opera-level tragedies and cliched kid-friendly conflicts.

It just about stops short of “What’s that, Skippy, there’s a kid trapped down a well,” antics, but it’s a close call on occasion. Dog lovers may be more responsive, but it will be a strong constitution that can stomach something which is this intensely schalmtzy, and, ultimately, downright risible.