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Review: Dog

February 17, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Throughout his career as an actor, Channing Tatum has played the role of Hollywood heartthrob (Dear John, The Vow), dancer and sex symbol (Step Up, Magic Mike), action hero (the G.I. Joe movies), comedy star (21 and 22 Jump Street), and serious actor (Foxcatcher), approaching these different roles with an amiable likability that belies his slightly limited dramatic range.

Now, after a several year hiatus as a leading man, Tatum returns to the screen with Dog, a pet project for the actor that he also co-directs alongside Magic Mike writer Reid Carolin, both making their directorial debuts.

In the role of Jackson Briggs, a former U.S. Army Ranger tasked with bringing his deceased army buddy’s dog to his funeral, the film allows Tatum to combine several of his aforementioned facets as a performer, bridging the gap between his more comedic and serious roles. The result is an odd film in terms of tone that has some trouble deciding what it wants to be, at times awkwardly straddling the line between humour and seriousness. But once Dog settles into being more of a sincere drama, the payoff is modestly satisfying.

Briggs is suffering from a brain injury that keeps him from being allowed to redeploy. When he gets the call that one of the Rangers he served alongside, Riley Rodriguez (Eric Urbiztondo), has died by suicide, Briggs is tasked with transporting Riley’s “hero dog” Lulu, a Belgian Mallinois, to the funeral. The trouble is that Lulu, who was trained to bite faces off in Afghanistan, isn’t exactly easy to be stuck in a car with. She is prone to lashing out at people she isn’t comfortable around, and gets skittish if her ears are touched.

The setup is simple; Briggs must drive the dog from Washington State to Arizona for her handler’s sendoff, before bringing her to her final destination – a military base where she will be euthanized, per army protocol, since she has been deemed too difficult for adoption. What Briggs starts to realize along the journey is that, like her person Rodriguez, Lulu is experiencing PTSD. The way that Dog depicts the linkage between human and animal trauma is probably the most interesting aspect of the film, with Tatum’s character starting to recognize aspects of his own trauma through Lulu.

While it’s pretty predictable where the story will end up, Dog offers some weird detours along the way, such as when Briggs tries to get laid in Portland, or when he stumbles onto a marijuana farm. Some of the film’s forays are more successful than others, and it’s littered with comic bits (including an extended cameo by Bill Burr that feels like something out of an edgier comedy) that don’t always land. In one such sequence, Briggs stuffs a hot dog full of allergy meds to drug Lulu as punishment for chewing up his truck seats. In another, he pretends to be blind in order to get a free hotel room, leading to the film’s strangest sequence involving allegations of racial profiling when Lulu lunges at a Muslim man.

Tatum’s character is somewhat underwritten, and a clearer exploration of what Briggs has experienced would have made him more sympathetic in these sequences when he kind of acts like a jerk. Tatum and Carolin (who co-wrote the script with Brett Rodriguez), have some trouble nailing down a consistent tone over the first two thirds. It’s a film that has been sold as, and often tries to be, a road trip comedy between Tatum and a difficult dog, but in actuality is much stronger when it settles into being a drama about the effects of war on both the humans and animals who survive it.

It’s in the last act, when Dog fully embraces its potential as a heartfelt tearjerker, that the film finally comes together. While the journey getting there is a bit mixed, and I wish the rest of the film had lived up to the strength of this final stretch, Dog still has enough going for it, including the likeable chemistry between Tatum and his canine co-star, to make it mildly worth seeing.

Dog opens in theatres on February 18th. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

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