'The Dog Lover': Film Review

The Dog Lover Still 1-H 2016
Courtesy of ESX Entertainment
Not for PETA members.

A young woman working for an animal rights organization goes undercover at a "puppy mill" in Alex Ranarivelo's drama.

"Learn the truth. Investigate before you donate," we're advised during the end credits of The Dog Lover. Filmgoers may also want to investigate before plunking down their cash for this manipulative drama that at first seems to be an expose of the unsavory practices of dog breeders before lurching into an impassioned defense of them. Executive produced by Forrest Lucas — an oil tycoon and founder of Protect the Harvest, a pro-hunter organization and a staunch opponent of animal protection groups — this propaganda piece seems bound to infuriate the very animal lovers to which it's attempting to appeal.

The story concerns college student Sara Gold (Allison Paige), a young woman interning at the United Animal Protection Society, a fictional PETA-like organization, much to the displeasure of her parents who would like her to use her expensive education in pursuit of a more lucrative career. Sara's latest assignment is to work undercover at a rural dog breeding operation run by the Holloway family, consisting of gruff patriarch Daniel (James Remar); hard-working wife Liz (Lea Thompson); hunky son Will (Jayson Blair), with whom Sara begins exchanging moony, flirtatious looks; and adorable moppet Abigail (Annabelle Kavanagh).

Armed with her cell phone camera, Sara immediately finds her suspicions raised by such things as a mysterious locked shed that she's banned from entering. But the more time she spends with the family, the more she's convinced of their good intentions and gentle, loving treatment of their animals, as contrasted with another nearby dog-breeding operation run by violent rednecks.

When Daniel kills a vicious dog that's come onto their property and is threatening his little girl, Sara's video footage of the event is manipulated by her organization, resulting in an immediate shutdown of Holloways' operation. During the ensuing trial, Sara finds herself trying to prove the family's innocence while learning the full extent of the Society's ruthlessness in pursuing its ends.

Under the stilted direction of Alex Ranarivelo, it's all as clunkily melodramatic as it sounds, with the climactic trial sequences proving particularly slow going. The screenplay's one-note characterizations and puppy romance subplot give it the feel of a Hallmark movie, as do the numerous scenes showcasing adorable dogs. On the other hand, there's a disquieting printed message at the end, reading, "American Humane Association monitored some of the animal action. No animals were harmed in those scenes." It makes you wonder what was going on during the other scenes.

Production: ESX Productions

Distributor: ESX Entertainment

Cast: Allison Paige, James Remar, Lea Thompson, Jayson Blair, Christina Moore

Director: Alex Ranarivelo

Screenwriters: Ali Afshar, Alex Ranarivelo

Producers: Tag Mendillo, Mandli Reno

Executive producers: Ali Afshar, Forrest Lucas

Director of photography: Rueden Steinberg

Production designer: Will Kijng

Editor: Brett Hedlund

Costume designer: Ashley Michaelson

Composer: Jamie Christopherson

Rated PG, 101 minutes