Channing Tatum drives across America with a troubled canine in this road-trip heartwarmer about a PTSD-afflicted soldier and a former service pooch.
March 17, 2022
One of the many 80s comedies on Tom Hanks' resume, Turner & Hooch has already been remade in 2021 as a low-stakes streaming series with nothing worth wagging one's tail about to show for it. Still, it gains a big-screen spiritual successor in Dog, Channing Tatum's return to cinemas after a five-year absence (other than a brief cameo in Free Guy, plus voice-acting work in Smallfoot and The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part). Sub out a police investigator saddled with a canine witness for an Army Ranger transporting a dead colleague's ex-working dog; swap Hanks' uptight everyman for Tatum's usual goofy meathead persona, obviously; and shoehorn in a portrait of America today that aims to appeal to absolutely everyone. The result: a good boy of a movie that Tatum co-directs, isn't without its likeable and affecting moments, but is also a dog's breakfast tonally.
Like pouring kibble into a bowl for a hungry pooch each morning, Dog is dutiful with the basics: a man, a mutt, an odd-couple arrangement between seeming opposites with more in common than the human among them first thinks, and an emotional journey. Comedic hijinks ensue along the way, naturally, although Turner & Hooch didn't involve anyone getting cock-blocked from having a threesome with two tantric sex gurus by its four-legged scamp. Given that Tatum's Jackson Briggs needs to take Belgian Malinois Lulu 1500 miles from Montana to Arizona by car — she won't fly — Dog is also a road-trip film, complete with episodic antics involving weed farmers and fancy hotels at its pitstops. That's all so standard that it may as well be cinema's best friend, but this flick also reckons with combat-induced post-traumatic stress disorder of both the human and animal kind, and ideas of masculinity and strength attached to military service.
When Dog introduces Briggs, he's working in fast food by necessity — think Breaking Bad's fate for Saul Goodman, with Tatum even channelling the same stoic demeanour — as he waits to get redeployed. All he wants is to head back on active duty, but his higher-ups need convincing after the brain injury he received on his last tour. But his direct superior (Luke Forbes, SWAT) throws him a bone: if Briggs escorts Lulu to their former squad member's funeral, after he drove himself into a tree at 120 miles per hour, he'll sign off on his re-enlistment. Lulu has also been changed by her service, so much so that this'll be her last hurrah; afterwards, Briggs is to return her to the nearest base where she'll be euthanised.
Given that Dog is exactly the movie it seems to be, its ending is never in doubt. Accordingly, fretting about Lulu is pointless. The journey is the story, of course, so Tatum and co-director/screenwriter Reid Carolin — also making his helming debut, and reteaming with the former after penning Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL (and the upcoming Magic Mike's Last Dance) — endeavour to make the small moments matter. That's a line of thinking on par with Briggs' readjustment to civilian life, and similarly howling through his burgeoning bond with Lulu past simply playing chauffeur. Yes, Dog is that obvious. An emotional throughline doesn't need to be novel to strike a chord, though, and this film yaps the message loud and clear. That said, it also trades more in concepts than in fleshed-out characters, making an already-broad story even broader.
Some films see the universal in the specific (see: 2008's also pooch-centric masterpiece Wendy and Lucy starring Michelle Williams), but Dog isn't one of them — it's too eager to please, and widely. So, when it attempts to rove beyond a feel-good person-and-pupper road-trip heartwarmer, it still goes broad and blatant. Here, caricatures of Portland women sneer at Briggs for his service, military camaraderie and purpose is his be all and end all, and dialogue riffs about "getting our murder on" on deployment. The armed forces are adamant about checking the boxes required for Briggs' return, but care little about his post-war life otherwise — and see Lulu as expendable. And, this is a feature where a gag involving Briggs pretending to be a person who is blind segues into an attack on a Middle Eastern man, as Lulu was once trained to do, which sparks congrats from a racist cop and Briggs' horror. Dog presents rather than significantly interrogates most of the above, however, proving jumbled in both mood and meaning.
Tatum, Carolin and co-screenwriter — and former soldier — Brett Rodriguez are far more careful with depicting the effects of war on Briggs and Lulu. Sharing a 14-year history with the subject dating back to 2008's Stop-Loss, which Tatum acted in, Carolin helped produce and Rodriguez worked on as a military consultant, the trio have been building to Dog; they also collaborated on 2017 documentary War Dog: A Soldier's Best Friend, too. Perhaps that's why, even playing a character with plenty of complications but little texture, Tatum still makes Briggs feel lived-in. He's long been great at unpacking and softening engrained notions of machismo — the Magic Mike films dazzle for exactly that reason — and he's as charismatic and graceful at it here as he's ever been. Tatum also conveys the simmering desperation driving Briggs, who only knows how to fight, and the leap it takes to see open himself up to his new barking bestie.
Affable, thoughtful, sometimes muddled, a bit adrift: they all describe Dog, and apply to Briggs and Lulu as well. Indeed, it'd be half the movie it is without Tatum, and benefits from a fine supporting turn by Ethan Suplee (The Hunt) as another veteran and dog handler — plus the always-welcome Jane Adams (She Dies Tomorrow) and ex-wrestler Kevin Nash (a fellow Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL alum) as the aforementioned pot-growing duo — as well as never-overplayed canine acting. A familiar but still poignant score from Thomas Newman (The Little Things) also does its part, and the expectedly scenic yet nonetheless vivid cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel (Da 5 Bloods) with it. Dog mightn't convincingly teach its underlying formula new tricks, doesn't always have much bite and rarely knows what to stop shaking its tail at; however, even just for its 101 minutes, it's an easy-enough movie to sit and stay with.
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