Whilst he never exactly went off the grid to warrant this a “comeback”, Channing Tatum certainly reminds us just why his likeable, some may say limitedly ranged persona was such a staple in the mid 2010’s with Dog. Not only does it see the actor step back into leading man territory – somewhere he hasn’t been since 2017’s wildly overlooked Logan Lucky – he also stretches his directing muscle, or, more correctly, his co-directing muscle; this effort marking a further collaboration between himself and Reid Carolin, following White House Down, Magic Mike and its XXL sequel, 22 Jump Street, and the aforementioned Logan Lucky.
The essential outline that Dog is a road-trip movie between Tatum’s brain-injured, medically discharged former Army Ranger Jackson Briggs and a dangerous military dog suffering from PTSD unwillingly thrust together for a journey to the funeral of said dog’s former handler may not sound like an exact cup of tea, but thanks to Tatum’s everyman charm and the joint scrappiness of his and Carolin’s handling of the material, Dog proves a far more accessible feature than its ingredients may suggest.
Suffering from “every combat trigger there is”, the titular dog – a Belgian Malinois named Lulu (played by a trio of similarly featured dogs, Britta, Lana 5 and Zuza) – is considered a danger to the public and no one seems willing to work with her closely enough to tame her anxiety. Enter Briggs, disposed enough to chauffeur Lulu across the state in the trade-off that he will be reinstated upon her delivery from the Washington base to the Arizona-set funeral.
Across the film’s 101 minute running time Carolin’s script flirts with the type of comedic set-pieces one may be expecting of the unpredictable canine variety, and a mid-section gag revolving around Briggs faking blindness with Lulu as his seeing eye dog in order to attain comfier accommodation for the night suggests a broader temperament, but, in actuality, Dog is a far more sombre affair. It has moments of levity, and the blind gag speaks more to the unfair treatment of former soldiers than it does in making light of a disability, but there’s a lot to be said about the patriotic sincerity Carolin and Tatum reach for.
Whilst not a downtrodden affair by any means though, Dog is a far more emotionally investing dramedy than people may be expecting. Younger audiences may find it a little too heavy handed, but for a feature that so easily could bank on emotional manipulation to sell its story – savage as she can be, Lulu is an entirely loveable animal – Dog straddles its line with a respectful appeal.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Dog is now screening in Australian theatres.