In his first film in five years Channing Tatum trades in the g-strings and dance moves of “Magic Mike” for a dog leash and self-awareness. “Dog,” now playing in theatres, is a pet project of a sort for Tatum, who not only stars but also makes his directorial debut in a movie about the power of the dog to change a life.
Tatum plays Jackson Briggs, a former U.S. Army Ranger sidelined by a traumatic brain injury and PTSD. Cut adrift of the military, in civilian life he is lost, separated from the only world he truly feels part of. He wants back in, but his medical status won’t allow a return to service.
When his best Ranger friend dies in Arizona, Briggs is offered a way back into the military. “You want to get back in the game?” asks Ranger Jones (Luke Forbes). “Prove it. Sergeant Rodriguez was a legend. Family funeral is Sunday outside of Nogales. They want his dog at the funeral. You do this, and you’re back in the game.”
The dog is Lulu, a Belgian Malinois military working dog, who vicious nature worked well in the field, less so back on base. “One minute she’s good,” says Briggs, “the next minute she’s sending three guys to the ER.”
Despite Lulu’s temper, Briggs agrees to drive her down the Pacific Coast from Joint Base Lewis–McChord in Washington to the funeral in Arizona. The unlikely pair head out on an eventful road trip, one that may lead to redemption for both.
“Dog” is a low-key man and his dog movie that quietly examines the after effects of trauma and the healing power of companionship and respect. As the miles tick by, Briggs comes to understand the shared bond between man and dog. Both are figuring out life outside the war zones that were their homes for many years, and both are forever marked by the experience. As their relationship deepens, it’s clear the key to their recovery is mutual TLC.
The movie takes some strange detours along the way—like a long sequence where Briggs pretends to be blind to get a fancy hotel suite or an odd encounter with a cannabis farmer who believes Briggs is an assassin—but the beating heart of the movie is the relationship between man and dog.
Tatum brings his likeable self to a character who isn’t always likeable. The film places Briggs is comedic and dramatic situations, which gives the movie an uneven tone—there are some “ruff” spots—but Tatum levels the field, providing continuity between the film’s goofy and gallant moments. Most importantly, he shares great chemistry with Lulu, who is actually played by three different canine actors. Tatum and co-director Reid Carolin make sure to include lots of close-ups of the Lulu’s soulful eyes, and in those scenes Tatum’s warmth shines through.
“Dog” is not a movie that teaches a lot of new tricks to the dog or to the audience but it does end on an emotional note with a welcome, if well-worn message, of the healing power of companionship.