Channing Tatum embarks on road trip with canine companion in 'Dog'
The underdog is a good position for Channing Tatum. Despite being one of the most beloved himbos of Hollywood, thanks to his affable screen presence, up-for-anything attitude, and obviously, his good looks, it still feels like we, as a population, underestimate Tatum a bit, especially as he makes his directorial debut with “Dog.”
Tatum shares the director’s chair with frequent producing partner and “Magic Mike” and “Magic Mike XXL” writer Reid Carolin, who is also making his directorial debut. Carolin penned the script with Brett Rodriguez, about a former Army Ranger, Jackson Briggs (Tatum), who is tasked with delivering another veteran to the funeral of an Army buddy who has died in a car accident. The vet in question happens to be Lulu, a Purple Heart-decorated combat dog, a Belgian Malinois whose handler was Jackson’s pal Riley.
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Like Jackson, she’s riddled with bullet scars, emotional triggers and the residual effects of war trauma, and she’s no longer a useful asset to the Army. Jackson agrees to drive “dog” (as he refers to her) from Washington to Arizona in hopes of receiving a recommendation for a private security contractor gig, despite the lingering effects of a traumatic brain injury.
Tatum, Carolin and Rodriguez have been collaborating, and grappling with the effects of war, since Kimberly Peirce’s 2008 film “Stop-Loss,” in which Tatum co-starred, while Reid produced and Rodriguez served as a military consultant. The trio also produced the 2017 HBO documentary “War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend,” and so “Dog” feels like a natural culmination for this creative partnership. The amount of time that this project has been marinating, plus the informed understanding of PTSD, brain injuries and the role of the combat dog make for a film that effortlessly conveys these complex issues.
It’s a more serious register for the filmmakers than the effervescent celebration of beefcake that is say, “Magic Mike XXL,” but the fact of the matter is that as filmmakers Tatum and Carolin know what the people want, too, and place Jackson in all manner of ridiculous situations along the way to capitalize on Tatum’s natural charisma (and abs). We want to see Tatum navigate a potential sexual encounter with two tantric healing practitioners (Emmy Raver-Lampman and Nicole LaLiberte) in Portland, bond with a pot-farming couple (Kevin Nash and Jane Adams) against all odds, and tangle with a San Francisco cop (Bill Burr) after attempting to scam a free hotel room. We also want to see Tatum emoting in a sopping wet T-shirt, and the filmmakers happily deliver that too.
The road-trip high jinks add a level of absurdity to the proceedings that keep “Dog” from ever getting too heavy or maudlin. Typically, movies about dogs are unrelentingly cloying tear-jerkers, but Tatum and Reid resist sentimentality, resulting in a film that’s refreshingly frank and surprising when the emotional moments do hit (and do they ever).
Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography has a propulsive flow, lingering over the natural beauty along the way: a snowy Montana landscape or Big Sur sunset. Editor Leslie Jones keeps the pace moving at an easy clip, and the film is incredibly watchable thanks to the craft on display. While some storylines could have used more care and attention, Reid and Tatum’s directorial instincts bring a fresh approach to this type of film. It’s a pleasure to say that this is one good “Dog.”
2.5 stars (out of 4)
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for language, thematic elements, drug content and some suggestive material)
Running time: 1:41
Where to watch: In theaters Friday