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Movie review: ‘Arthur the King’

The feel-good elements of a sports movie and a pet bonding tale are mingled in director Simon Cellan Jones’ fact-based drama “Arthur the King” (Lionsgate). The combination results in a mildly diverting movie that might have been especially appealing to athletic-minded teens were it not for an excess of vulgar dialogue in the script.

Adapted by screenwriter Michael Brandt from Mikael Lindnord’s 2016 memoir “Arthur: The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home,” the film showcases adventure racing, a challenging multi-event team competition in which participants take on the rigors of the wilderness. In this instance, the setting is the rugged landscape of the Dominican Republic.

Mark Wahlberg plays Lindnord’s stand-in, Michael Light. Though aging and nearly washed-up, Michael is determined to take his final shot at the championship that has always previously eluded him. So he sets out to find financial backing and assemble a squad he hopes can win the gold.

His collaborators include expert mountain climber Olivia (Nathalie Emmanuel) and crack navigator Chik (Ali Suliman). Rounding out the quartet is Leo (Simu Liu), a former teammate-turned-critic of Michael’s. Since Leo has a wide following on social media, Michael’s potential sponsors insist that he be included, forcing Michael to patch things up with him.

As the team climbs peaks and fords rivers across a trek of hundreds of miles, a wounded stray dog Michael momentarily took pity on and fed during an early rest stop follows them with uncanny determination. His unrelenting persistence and dignified endurance gradually gain him the group’s affection – as well as the royal moniker from which the picture takes its title.

Brandt’s screenplay has its priorities in order. As early scenes show, the last expedition on which Michael and Leo competed together ended disastrously due to Michael’s poor judgment and ego-driven refusal to take advice. Over the course of this outing, by contrast, Michael experiences personal growth and becomes a better leader.

Additionally, the plot’s somewhat formula defying wrap-up finds loyalty and compassion trumping less worthy considerations. Grown viewers will appreciate these underlying aspects of Michael’s story. But they’ll also note that its macho atmosphere – Olivia’s presence notwithstanding – is underlined by numerous salty exchanges and exclamations.

The film contains brief anatomical humor, a couple of profanities, several milder oaths, at least one rough term, frequent crude language and some crass talk. The OSV News classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.