Synopsis: An army ranger and his dog embark on a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway to attend a friend’s funeral.
Stars: Channing Tatum, Jane Adams, Kevin Nash, Q’orianka Kilcher, Ethan Suplee, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Nicole LaLiberté, Luke Forbes, Ronnie Gene Blevins
Director: Reid Carolin and Channing Tatum
Running Length: 101 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: The last time we saw Channing Tatum onscreen was in the much-hyped Kingsman: The Golden Circle back in 2017. Meant to be a sort of testing ground for a potential American spin-off of the surprise hit original film, Tatum’s role turned out to be much smaller than anticipated. While it capped off a banner year for the actor, it was the last time we’d see him in a significant role for five very long years. Voice appearances in 2019’s The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part count for something, but it’s not like seeing the dancer turned superstar on the big screen. Poised to make a comeback in 2022, starting with Dog followed up quickly with The Lost City in March, Tatum has also kept busy wearing his producer’s cap.
That’s how he came to being involved as an executive producer with the 2017 HBO documentary War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend detailing the bond created between army veterans and the canines they work with during and after their service. From that experience, Tatum and his frequent collaborator Reid Carolin (Magic Mike, Magic Mike XXL) have made Dog, based on a story from Carolin and Brett Rodriguez, another of War Dog’s producers. Instead of finding a true story to base a more stalwart biopic on, fictionalizing a story that uses the lives of the real men and dogs featured in the documentary as inspiration was a wise route to go. That way, co-directors Tatum and Carolin can have more freedom to horse around with lighter moments of their own creation, interspersed with the emotional beats the film apparently is required to hit like mile markers.
Returned veteran Sergeant Riley Rodriguez (Eric Urbiztondo) has been killed in an automobile accident in the Pacific Northwest and is to be buried by his family in Nogales, AZ. Besides his family, Sgt. Rodriguez is survived by his military dog Lulu, a beautiful Belgian Malinois that has also struggled with reintegration as many military service animals do. Lulu’s presence is requested at the burial, but due to her emotional issues, she cannot fly, and no one will get near her for fear of attack. Desperate to be cleared for full-time service despite a severe head trauma that has kept him on the army’s restricted list, U.S. Army Ranger Jackson Briggs reluctantly accepts the assignment, on the condition his captain put in a good word for him.
Having served with Rodriguez, Briggs is familiar with Lulu, and she remembers him as well. The reunion isn’t pleasant, and the trip doesn’t begin on the best foot/paw. With two strong-willed personalities at odds with one another and both working through pain that needs to be talked out, being unable to communicate puts them at a disadvantage. At least initially. As the days go by and the often-soused Briggs learns through caring for Lulu how to care for Lulu, he starts to see in himself the possibility for a future that could be different he imagined. In turn, Lulu’s disposition changes once she starts to feel a sense of stability.
Carolin’s script is nothing extraordinary, and there’s a whiff that Dog, filmed during the pandemic and bare-bones enough in its production that it shows it, exists more as a tribute to the military veterans and their families than anything else. Something that will be shown on repeat in military bases around the world. And why shouldn’t it? Why shouldn’t there be something directly programmed for a captive audience craving emotional beats they can instantly relate to? That must be why there’s a brief and totally unnecessary threesome scene for Tatum and two random women (Blacklight’s Emmy Raver-Lampman and Nicole LaLiberté), which goes just far enough to elicit wolf whistles but not too far that it couldn’t be explained away if there are children present.
There’s little that happens that isn’t easily predictable but darn it all, if that shot of the dog at the funeral nestled at the foot of the memorial to her fallen didn’t push that “misty-eye” button in me. It’s almost a relief Dog plays out as simply and without complications, as it does. If it were to get into the weeds too much or try for something more profound, it might not have achieved such a comfortable gait and left the viewer feeling as pleasant as it does. Though no one seems to be working all that hard, you could still call this a labor of love because all involved clearly have great respect for the veterans and their companions and wanted to tell a story honoring that bond.