As an actor, Charles Martin Smith once played the real-life writer Farley Mowat in “Never Cry Wolf,” a sometimes strenuously realistic Arctic adventure. The role must have made an impression: As a director, Smith made “The Snow Walker” (2003), an Arctic survival tale also based on a Mowat story.
Some of Smith’s feel for landscape and animal life resonates in his latest directorial effort, “A Dog’s Way Home,” which is adapted from a novel by W. Bruce Cameron, whose “A Dog’s Purpose” was made into a film in 2017. Not to break this particular puppy on some perverse auteurist wheel, but Smith also directed “Air Bud,” about a basketball-playing dog, and there’s a touch of that here, too.
The new movie’s scenario mixes a large number of heartstring-pulling tropes: abandoned animals, war veterans with PTSD, a socially awkward male protagonist who adopts a suddenly motherless half-pit-bull whelp in a town where the breed is outlawed, a painful separation.
And so, the dog, Bella, must make an arduous trek. Arduous — and weird.
Along the way, Bella, who is played by a real dog and is given the voice of Bryce Dallas Howard, “adopts” a young cougar that’s entirely a C.G.I. creation, complete with overexpressive eyes. The pair have to fend off wolves more than once. (If you’ve ever wondered what “The Grey” might have been like if Liam Neeson were a dog, you must see this movie.)
As ridiculous as it gets, and that’s plenty, “A Dog’s Way Home” manages to serve up a one- to two-hankie finale, depending on the extent of your dog-person-ness.