'Dog' review: Canine road trip dramedy undercuts trauma of service animals
Courtesy of MGM/United Artist
Having stepped away from the spotlight since 2017’s “Logan Lucky,” Channing Tatum is back in a different type of vehicle with his directorial debut, alongside co-director Reid Carolin, in “Dog.” Which is yes, shockingly, about a fluffy canine but you might never know it. A passion project for both men behind the camera and inspired by the documentary “Heart of a Dog,” “Dog” brims with lovable affection for its scruffy headliner (played by three individual pups) but the movie doesn’t have a clear understanding of which direction it should go. On the surface, you’d assume a movie called “Dog” would put an emphasis on the PTSD stricken doggo at the center of the movie, but it ends up becoming more focused on its human counterpart and branches off into some head scratching detours that involve impersonating a blind man and landing in the backyard of a mentally challenged weed farmer played by Kevin Nash.
Tatum plays Briggs, a former Army ranger who was discharged because of a brain injury and has been stuck working dead end jobs as a civilian trying to get back in shape (physically and mentally) in the hopes of getting a recommendation from a former commanding officer that’ll help enlistment chances. Though technically a liability, he’s given a second chance when asked to escort Belgian Malinois Lulu across the country to her recent KIA owner’s funeral who also served alongside Briggs. Seems simple enough, but a road-trip with a dog trained to attack and kill terrorists will be anything but and things quickly escalate as Lulu struggles with anxiety and new surroundings (a simple pet around the ears sends her off the leash).
For Briggs, the entire journey is a transactional one, get Lulu to the funeral and get back in the Army, which doesn’t create the most likable personality. “Dog” occasionally feels like it’s making a mockery out of the trauma animals actually face in the line of duty, not to mention, the film brushes around the topic of homeless veterans and their mental instability in a truly laughable display. Briggs seldom shows any remorse, understanding or an ounce of patience for Lulu’s condition creating a weird divide the longer the movie went along. There’s also a point where Lulu finds comfort in watching her old body cam footage, which I’d assume could be triggering, but Briggs seems to get a kick out of it. Yeesh.
Lulu is obviously a product of her environment and was bred and trained to be a natural born killer, but “Dog” doesn’t seem intent on exploring the bedrock and foundations of these questionable methods. Instead, it tries burying these serious undertones under the guise of a tender family weepie. “Dog” has its moments when it tries sparking a conversation on toxic masculinity and how men compartmentalize their issues. That’s true for Briggs but it’s more true for Lulu who, as the movie likes to remind us, is destined for euthanization after the funeral. Spoiler alert, “Dog” has a happy ending, but it misses the mark in trying to make a statement on the sacrifices these animals endure in favor of a character with minimal redeeming values.
DOG is now playing in theaters.