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Tatum and company offer up a good ‘Dog’

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Full disclosure: I am a sucker for dogs.

Seriously – all a filmmaker has to do is place a dog prominently in their movie and I will be absolutely enraptured by it. And if that dog is placed in trying circumstances of any sort? Cue the waterworks, particularly if those trying circumstances involve said dog’s relationship with a human.

(Please note: I DO NOT CARE about the well-being of the human, save for how that human’s well-being will impact that of the dog. Do whatever you want to the people, just keep the dog safe.)

So I was ready for “Dog” to pluck at my heartstrings. The film, which stars Channing Tatum and marks the actor’s first time in the director’s chair – well, co-director’s chair at any rate (Reid Carolin, who also wrote the script, served as co-director) – tells the story of a former Army Ranger who is tasked with getting the service dog of his fallen comrade to the man’s funeral.

It’s a surprising film, one whose emotional beats feel largely earned despite sporting the cheat code that is a dog; this movie is aware that it is pushing buttons, but manages not to come off as doing so cynically, all while being a good deal funnier than you might anticipate. Yes, the film has its share of issues, but “Dog” is actually rather well-made – certainly solid work from a pair of first-time directors.

Jackson Briggs (Channing Tatum) is a former U.S. Army Ranger dealing with the physical and emotional toll exacted on him by multiple tours of duty overseas. He’s out of the service due to medical issues – specifically, traumatic brain injuries – so the path for him to get back into that world, albeit through private security firms, is rife with obstacles.

When one of his buddies dies, Briggs attends a celebration of life at a nearby bar. While there, he tries to convince his former commanding officer to write a letter of recommendation for one of these security companies. While initially reluctant, the captain agrees to write one – on one condition.

See, the late Sergeant Rodriguez was a dog handler in the service. The Rodriguez family has requested that the man’s former partner – a Belgian Malinois named Lulu – be present for the funeral in Arizona. So the deal is simple – if Briggs can get Lulu to Arizona in time for the service in just a few days, he’ll get the recommendation he seeks.

Now, Lulu is dealing with her own struggles following the death of her handler. She is sad and angry and unstable, suffering from the unpredictable effects of PTSD. And now, she’s been muzzled, crated and foisted into a truck with someone she only vaguely remembers.

Briggs and Lulu set off down the Pacific Coast and head toward Arizona. You’ll be shocked to learn that while their relationship begins in an antagonistic fashion, it isn’t long before the two begin to find common ground. Along the way, we encounter tantric hippies and mysterious pot farmers and engage in some mistaken identity shenanigans. Oh, and Briggs tries to reconnect with his young daughter as well.

Ultimately, what these two broken creatures truly needed … was each other.

Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that “Dog” is some monumental achievement in filmmaking. It isn’t. That said, it is better than I expected it to be – and far better than it needed to be. Oh, and while I tend to avoid spoilers, I will tell you this: the dog doesn’t die. Just FYI.

Credit to Tatum and Carolin, who have done a legitimately good job in putting this movie together. This is the kind of film that could have become maudlin or overly saccharine, but “Dog” largely avoids that trap. Instead, we get a zippy narrative featuring enough humor for us to avoid getting bogged down in the fundamental sadness of the underlying premise. Do the assorted set pieces always make total sense? They do not, but it’s OK – they’re fun and they’re quick, giving you a few laughs and then we’re on our way, never lingering too long. That pacing contributes mightily to keeping things light.

That said, I absolutely cried during “Dog.” Several times. Care to make something of it?

It’s not my intent to get too into the weeds here, but it does seem as though this directorial pair may have learned a thing or two on the set of the film where they first met, 2012’s “Magic Mike.” And no, I’m not saying that the filmmaking on “Dog” approaches Soderberghian heights, but honestly? There are whiffs of his influence here and there.

The comedian W.C. Fields is famed for saying “Never work with children or animals.” Happily, Channing Tatum ignored that maxim – we get long stretches of film where it’s just him and the adorable dog playing Lulu and, honestly, they’re probably the best parts of the movie. Much of that likely springs from the fact that, in many ways, Tatum comes off as an anthropomorphized golden retriever, which makes for a strong and charming connection with his canine co-star. He’s at his best when he can rely on his inherent charisma; he only loses his charm when he tries too hard to capital-A Act.

The rest of the folks in the ensemble are fine, though no one particularly stands out. The truth is that they’re only here because it would be tough to do 90 minutes of just Tatum-dog scenes (although that is probably a movie I would watch, not going to lie).

“Dog” is not great cinema, but no one is asking it to be. Thanks to a solid lead turn from Tatum and an across-the-board understanding of the type of movie they’re making, “Dog” offers furry fun at the movies.

All dogs are good dogs. Hence, this movie is a good “Dog.”

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 21 February 2022 16:20

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