Directed by Reid Carolin and Channing Tatum.
Starring Channing Tatum, Jane Adams, Kevin Nash, Q’orianka Kilcher, Amanda Booth, Aqueela Zoll, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Cayden Boyd, Nicole LaLiberte, and Skyler Joy.
Two former Army Rangers are paired against their will on the road trip of a lifetime. Briggs (Channing Tatum) and Lulu (a Belgian Malinois), race down the Pacific Coast to a fellow soldier’s funeral on time.
Dog marks the directorial debut of two filmmakers; Reid Carolin, alongside noteworthy star and actor Channing Tatum (Carolin has even served as a producer on some of the action hero’s work). Screenwriter Brett Rodriguez is also Tatum’s assistant, making for another connection. It appears that Dog is a passion project from the leading man (or perhaps all three of these involved creatives), albeit a misguided one that’s confused about what the story should be.
Tatum is former Army Ranger Briggs. Or rather, a former Army Ranger trying to get cleared by his superiors despite numerous injuries, wear and tear on the body, and likely brain damage. None of this matters to Briggs, as it’s the only life he knows. Technically, Briggs has a medical report clearing him for duty, although he is still a liability. Nevertheless, the powers that be are willing to change their mind as long as he agrees to escort Belgian Malinois Lulu (played by multiple adorable dogs) across the country to its recently deceased owner’s funeral, who also happens to be a fellow squadmate of Briggs.
What sounds simple enough on the surface quickly turns into a nightmare road trip, as Lulu is saddled with PTSD and anxiety due to essentially functioning as an attack and protection dog out in the field. The gentlest of ear pats send her into a frenzy, she has, unfortunately, been trained to bite Muslims, and requires a muzzle (to be taken off every two hours for some breathing room). Obviously, this problematic behavior is not the fault of Lulu; she is a product of her environment and ethically questionable training.
Accounting for that, Briggs is somehow more unlikable as a self-centered man who only cares about returning to duty and getting laid (with Tatum or the script doing much to add charisma or complexity until it’s too late). On top of that, his treatment of Lulu’s complete lack of empathy for her condition is massively offputting. Sometimes, it feels as if Dog is making light of the trauma these canines endure and how quickly they are set to be euthanized upon finishing their service with not much chance for societal rehabilitation, to which I say who the hell wants to watch that even if it’s glaringly apparent Briggs is intentionally the dog in this scenario and will learn a few lessons across these 100 minutes. One of the more uncomfortable jokes involves Lulu’s entertainment from watching a greatest hits compilation of body cam footage, which most likely contains violent unpleasantries.
It also doesn’t help that these filmmakers depict all of this through the lens of quirkiness. Briggs encounters various hippies and spiritual enthusiasts who are mined for awkward situational humor that has nothing to do with the story and, at one point, impersonates a blind veteran to receive special treatment at a fancy hotel. The result is attempted comedy that is lazy, wildly out of place, and potentially offensive to some (it’s one thing to do this so Lulu has a comfortable and relaxing place to sleep, but another misstep when Briggs uses that sympathy to mingle with an attractive front desk clerk). The payoff to the schtick does get a laugh, which is something.
Dog is a series of those schticks desperately trying to wring something entertaining out of the buddy road trip formula. For the first hour or so, it’s a mess that consistently whiffs until suddenly Carolin and Tatum show an interest in exploring the brokenness of veterans. Part of the travel luggage includes Briggs’ partner’s diary, which intermittently contains poems he insists were written as part of “therapy bullshit.” As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that dark thoughts were going through this veteran’s mind and that he probably was taking the sessions seriously. It speaks to the importance of seeking mental health treatment, something that men often stigmatize when they shouldn’t. Dog is temporarily engaging when it’s taking this mental pain and anguish into consideration. Aside from that, it’s a disjointed, loony disaster that rubs the wrong way.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com