In "The Stray," director Mitch Davis relates his own near-death experience on a Colorado mountain and pays tribute to the spiritualizing influence of a beloved pet. The closing credits feature home movie clips, and those documentary snippets are alive with the love between a dog named Pluto and the family whose yard he wandered into one day, determined to stay. The drama preceding that real-life footage, however, is an underpowered, white-bread sermon on the importance of family and faith.
Michael Cassidy plays the 1991 version of the filmmaker, a workaholic Hollywood studio executive and father of three, primed all too clearly to learn tough lessons about parenting. Mitch's wife (Sarah Lancaster) is increasingly frustrated with his absences, and his son (Connor Corum) holds an unconvincing grudge. The screenplay, credited to Mitch Davis and his son Parker Davis (among several Davises involved in the production), continually puts grown-up commentary in the mouths of babes.
Pluto arrives to brighten the tense household and helps to spur the family's move from California, away from corporate stress and toward quality time. The backpacking trip at the heart of the film is Mitch's redoubled attempt to bond with his boy. When the weirdly misguided plan turns into a downright disaster, Pluto's already established superheroism reaches new heights, as we're reminded repeatedly.
Love of God and dog can be powerful things, but in this uncinematic telling, they fail to inspire.
Rating: PG, for thematic elements including a perilous situation
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: In general release