“Dog” (2022) – U.S. Army Ranger Jackson Briggs (Channing Tatum) is struggling. He needs a job.
Briggs served in the Middle East for years and lives stateside now but suffers from concussions and post-traumatic stress. The man searches for a purpose and – hopefully – another military assignment. However, he deals with more rejection than a ticketless, penniless football fan negotiating with pricey scalpers outside a Super Bowl venue.
Well, finally, an old colleague grants him a chance. It’s a weekend job but a valuable, salient one. Sadly, a fellow U.S. Army patriot, Sgt. Riley Rodriguez (Eric Urbiztondo), passed away, and his upcoming funeral is set in Nogales, Ariz. He’s survived by his military dog – a Belgian Malinois named Lulu, who served for several years – and Jackson must drive this heroic hound from the Pacific Northwest to Sgt. Rodriguez’s service.
On the surface, this sounds like a straightforward, stress-free task. Briggs and Lulu can enjoy lovely views and human and canine banter on I-5 or the Pacific Coast Highway for a couple of days, but this road trip is more winding than the tricky pathways through the Cascades.
You see, Lulu hurts from as many emotional and physical scars as Jackson. She needs to wear a muzzle frequently, and off-camera, she allegedly and recently put three guys in the ER.
Perhaps, Jackson should wear a dog trainer’s bite suit for 1,500-plus miles, right?
This movie – made by first-time directors Reid Carolin and Tatum – has two major themes in its favor: person-pooch bonding and veterans returning from war. It’s darn near impossible to be against these two big-screen ideas. Hey, I am a huge animal person and have massive respect for our soldiers.
The filmmakers’ hearts are in the right place, and at times, they push the right buttons, but contrived plot devices and conflicting tones travel over a bumpy celluloid terrain.
With his soldierly experience, Jackson respects authority and responsibility. Still, connecting with a volatile, dangerous dog in a closed space, namely in his aging, blue Ford SUV for hundreds of miles, sounds like standing in a closet full of mousetraps for three days straight.
That’s a tricky business, so the film introduces some enormously random encounters for our confined couple, including a tantric tryst (for Jackson) and a kidnapping. What? Okay, not at the same time.
(Note: two notable cameos grace our screen during Jackson and Lulu’s adventures, including one that WWE fans will love.)
These moments are about as distant from the primary storyline as your local gas station is to the surface of Mars. Regrettably, these bizarre cinematic rest stops feel like indiscriminate oddities to pass the time. Well, not exactly. We become familiar with Jackson and Lulu, and they are both sympathetic characters, even though our four-legged lady could chew up Briggs like a stuffed animal at any moment.
Look, Lulu’s behavior is wildly inconsistent. She might rip up Jackson’s vehicle one minute but later, sit quietly on a 4-star hotel room’s bed. She’ll leap out of his truck’s shattered open window in one instance but not catch the jumping urge for hours and hours. Sometimes, she’s okay without a muzzle, but during other cases, she needs one.
Overall, we can assume where their eventual relationship will land, but mechanically, their growth along the way feels flawed, and so does the film’s atmosphere. We volley from intentional slapstick to grave trauma from the pains of combat, and it isn’t easy to entirely wrap your arms around both concepts with a 97-minute movie that feels very rushed in the third act.
No doubt, Tatum is a charismatic screen presence. Men want to be him, and women want to date him, and Channing successfully portrays Jackson as an agreeable, capable figure. Jackson and Lulu are cut from the same cloth, and they need one another, but to include both comedy and sobriety within this film, we almost needed one grounded lead character to anchor the picture and carry us (and the other co-star) through to the end. As-is, “Dog” feels simultaneously a bit too much and not enough.
That doesn’t mean that audiences – including dog lovers – won’t enjoy this story, and hey, Channing is undoubtedly a likable fellow. Kudos to him for raising awareness for soldiers, both humans and dogs.
If you want to learn more about dogs at war and the soldiers who handle them, “Megan Leavey” (2017), starring Kate Mara as the title character, is a stronger movie. It’s a sobering picture, but it doesn’t bathe the audience in tears. Still, it splashes us at times.
If you decide to see “Dog”, make me a deal and watch “Megan Leavey” too. My guess is that Channing won’t mind.
⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Directed by: Reid Carolin and Channing Tatum
Written by: Reid Carolin
Starring: Channing Tatum and Q’orianka Kilcher
Runtime: 97 minutes
Image credits: United Artists Releasing