It was only ten years ago when the respect for actor Channing Tatum came around when everyone, including me, never thought he was going to make it big in Hollywood with the career choices he made. Who would’ve believed he made us like him when he showed off his talents in the back-to-back surprise hits of 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike, respectively. Not me. But it’s been some time since we’ve seen him in a leading role where I was actually missing his screen presence. With the latest, the simply titled Dog, he’s not only starring in it but also the co-director alongside his longtime creative partner Reid Carolin. With that, this will become one of the better standouts for dog lovers everywhere.
What’s the Story: After sustaining a brain injury, U.S. Army Ranger Jackson Briggs (Tatum) left him not to fight in combat and feel at a loss in his life. But he gets an assignment that could land him a recommendation to come back to the field: After his old Army buddy Riley Rodriguez recently passed away, his opportunity to return to the military comes with the task of transporting his military dog Lulu, a Belgian Malinois, from Fort Lewis, Washington to her owner’s funeral to Nogales, Arizona on time. Them being on the road riding in an ’84 Ford Bronco with each other isn’t the most straightforward job since Lulu isn’t the most controlled dog during this period, but it might live up to some peace between them.
A fair share of dog-related movies couldn’t be more uninteresting since they usually look very mediocre, especially over the past few years, or they had to make them unnecessary talk for little kids. Though I saw the trailer for Dog not too long ago, it didn’t look too bad and had the earnest possibility of not becoming one of the more forgettable movies out there. And while there’s been a ton of movies that has a human teaming up with a dog of any breed, this comes off as more caring as you’re watching this journey of two characters who need each other the most right now. In their directorial debut, both Tatum and Carolin, behind the camera, know they were going to try nothing new that we’ve already seen in road trip comedies. This was based on the former’s experience of losing his dog not too long ago, and the inspiration came from the HBO documentary War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend.
With only an actor and a dog as the primary protagonists, it’s nice knowing Tatum can carry the movie with his typical charisma and showmanship as he tells his narrative, revealing how he’s a flawed and not wholly appealing person on the inside as we discover more about his life. I would go as far to say this is one of his best performances, and seeing him again does have me giving hope he’ll do more later in the year. But he’s also able to work well with his co-star, played by three dogs as the titular character. Unfortunately, Lulu isn’t the best around people and it’s even more complicated when she isn’t able to fly on an airplane. Sometimes it can be challenging for Hollywood actors to work with an animal on set because it tends to go wrong, but watching this makes clear there has always been a special bonding that comes with being man’s best friend.
There isn’t anything with Tatum and Carolin’s directing that sparked out amazement, but they understand the important aspect of letting you know these two aren’t perfect in who they are. Yet, you wouldn’t expect them to help each other build some redemption between them. It takes a while to be on each other’s level. I had an idea of where this was going because a dog movie like this wouldn’t go down the harsh route to be manipulative, but even when it ends pretty quickly where it needed a scene or two more, it doesn’t lead to the letdown in some cases. It does offer more of a blend of comedy and drama that’ll come as a surprise for those who watched the trailer. I found myself laughing a number of times throughout where I didn’t think would go that far. The two go through the occasional hijinks with their adventure, including Briggs pretending to be blind so he and Lulu can grab a hotel room or Jackson getting interrupted by a potential three-way with these tantric yoga instructors he met at a bar. But it isn’t afraid to take the laughs down a notch to be serious when there’s an instance of their truck broken into and had to search for their stuff.
At times, though, the script from Carolin and co-writer Brett Rodriguez has trouble being consistent with what I wanted it to be with its tones to convey a through-line. So you can look at Dog as just a collection of sequences to make the story come to life with the ideal problems one would think with Jackson and Lulu. But the comedic and dramatic beats can be troubling on where this stands until the end. Some of it works, while certain moments won’t sit well with viewers. There was a moment with a couple, Kevin Nash (who I didn’t know in this until his name was in the credits) and Jane Adams, executed differently from what was pictured in my head. Some might think the film doesn’t carry much weight and consider it boring to sit through. Sure, I won’t argue with that, but it could’ve been worse for 90 minutes.
While it won’t take home any awards for originality and it’ll most likely be a little forgettable, Dog winds up being the heartwarming dramedy it intended it to be. It may struggle with the tone at times, but overall, it’s a genuinely buddy road trip movie despite that and its predictability. Thankfully, Tatum gives one of his strongest performances when acting alongside his canine co-star. Will it make you tear up? It probably won’t, but you can’t go wrong with checking this out in theaters.
Grade: (7/10) B
Dog is currently in theaters and is available on digital starting March 11.