2022, PG-13, 90 min. Directed by Reid Carolin, Channing Tatum. Starring Tatum, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Bill Burr, Jane Adams, Kevin Nash, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Nicole LaLiberte, Aqueela Zoll, Junes Zahdi.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Feb. 25, 2022

The official trailer for this interspecies bromance between two ex-Army Rangers sidelined from military service, one human and the other canine, markets the movie as a genial road comedy about a mismatched pair bonding on a sentimental journey. The actual tone of Dog, however, is harsher than this preview suggests. Yes, there are moments of levity, but the underbelly of some of those laughs makes for uneasy humor, lightened only by the undisputable charm that the now-fortyish Channing Tatum brings to any role, even when he’s playing – as here – a not-so-nice-guy seemingly incapable of good judgment. For that matter, one who’s oddly lacking in the ability to half-way relate to the troubled animal in the title. How about first calling her by her name, rather than the generic “Dog”? Though occasionally emotional, this ain’t no heart-tugging rehash of Lassie Come Home. And there’s something to be said for that.

Brett Rodriguez’s screenplay tinkers with buddy movie tropes layered atop conventional expectations about stories featuring man’s best friend. Former elite infantryman Briggs (Tatum) is struggling to adapt to civilian life after suffering a brain injury in Afghanistan, living off the grid in snow-capped Washington and working a dead-end job behind the counter making subs (badly). He’s determined to get back in uniform, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the significant physical and emotional trauma he experienced in this last tour of duty. Likewise, the wild-eyed Belgian Malinois named Lulu also can’t adjust to life back in the States, constantly spooked by loud noises and aggressively attacking just about anyone. The first time you see her, she’s wearing an oversized muzzle, a bowwow version of Hannibal Lecter.

Both damaged goods suffering from PTSD, Briggs and Lulu are thrown together when he strikes a deal with Army brass to drive her down the Pacific Coast to Nogales, Arizona, to attend the funeral of her beloved Army handler, a soldier in Briggs’ old battalion who recently died under tragic circumstances. The script comes up a little short in developing a credible burgeoning relationship between the two travelers as they make their way south, and it makes all-too-easy cultural jabs during stops in places like Portland and northern California, more mocking than good-natured. First-time co-directors Reid Carolin and Tatum struggle to achieve a sense of coherency over the course of the movie’s pilgrimage. That said, there are some details to admire, like the way Briggs and members of the elite corps fraternity to which he once belonged condescend to those they view as their armed forces inferiors.

What’s most unexpected is the film’s sincere consideration of the plight of veterans coming home to a world in which they feel they don’t belong. It’s not as heavy-duty as American Sniper in this regard, coming nowhere close to carrying the political baggage of that controversial movie. (Some viewers, however, may find the overall military vibe here off-putting.) As fuzzy as Briggs’ mental and physical condition may be – are his nightmares triggering seizures, or vice versa? – there’s little question he’s one messed up dude. Predictably enough, someone is rescued by the end of Dog. Any animal lover can tell you who that someone might be.

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Dog, Reid Carolin, Channing Tatum, Tatum, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Bill Burr, Jane Adams, Kevin Nash, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Nicole LaLiberte, Aqueela Zoll, Junes Zahdi

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