Film Review: Arthur the King: Man, dog, and adventure racing    

The upcoming Mark Wahlberg film "Arthur the King" is a motivating classroom poster. It has good intentions, but it's mostly a typical underdog story with the usual beats.

Wahlberg plays Michael, an adventure racer without a win. One day into his “last shot” race, we find him and his squad stranded in the mud...unable to finish. They are feeble, he says. Three years later, he works for his dad and lives in a luxurious mansion with his gorgeous, former adventure racer wife and their small daughter in suburban purgatory. She sacrificed everything to be a mom, but he can't get past losing.

“Racers race,” he says. She caves quickly, perhaps weary of mopey Michael, and orders him to get sponsors. Like masculine Diana Nyad, he obsesses about his greatest accomplishments in a specialized sport.

Racing driver Mikael Lindnord penned “Arthur: The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home” about his difficult journey. Did I mention the dog? Though the film is only 90 minutes long, the main innovation of “Arthur the King” doesn't properly merge into the tale until approximately 45 minutes in. Simon Cellan Jones and his editor try to intersperse video of the dog's stray days in Santo Domingo, but the film doesn't feel like it's started until they meet.

I know it's a race, but it feels rushed and lacks flavor, with only travelogue pictures of the Dominican Republic and a by-the-books tune. Female characters are lacking. Helena (Juliet Rylance), Michael's "phone wife," constantly has makeup on and her blond mermaid curls spilling down her shoulders, whether she's sleeping or working out. Only when reading about Michael or talking to him is she on screen.

Their adorable daughter performs three cute actions with her dad, then plays peacefully in the background. Nathalie Emmanuel joins the racing squad, but her sole differentiating trait is worrying about her cancer-stricken father at home.

There is a thrilling scene involving a damaged zip line and our explorers dangling with their bikes to reach the other line, but I'm not sure the adventure actually takes hold. Not even the “brothers in arms” banter between teammates Ali Suliman and Simu Liu is memorable or enjoyable. Michael grows closer to the dog and less interested in winning as you go from checkpoint to checkpoint on your 435-mile adventure.

Michael eventually cares about his comrades. Three years ago, he thought the IV line was weak, but now he wants Leo (Liu), an Instagram-famous racer he had to recruit.

When the race concludes, the dog becomes even more central, and the heartstrings are pulled (though it's easy to provoke emotions when the camera is on a dog that could die). Michael claims he's never liked dogs or had a pet, but this one brings him back. Experience led the real Michael to create an animal protection nonprofit.

Maybe the movie will draw attention to the Arthur Foundation, but it's easy to watch but unsatisfying. The Motion Picture Association rates Lionsgate's Friday film “Arthur the King” PG-13 for “some strong language.” Duration: 90 minutes. Two stars out of 4.

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