Channing Tatum stars and co-directs this highly pleasurable canine road movie with a few neat tricks up its sleeve.
It’s rare in cinema that you’ll get someone so willing and able to leverage their natural charisma in the name of their art as the actor Channing Tatum does with such scintillating regularity. The upshot of that highly specific – and generous – mode of performance is that Tatum doesn’t really do characters in the traditional sense of the term. What we have instead are iterations of the perceived Tatum persona – the louche, mischievous, dryly comic American rascal who owns a set of rippling back muscles that are big enough to slalom down.
It’s this complete comfort with the camera’s unflinching gaze that powers the film Dog, in which Tatum stars as ex-marine ranger Jackson Briggs, and he also co-directs in collaboration with his erstwhile Magic Mike producer, Reid Carolin. The story template is a feisty mongrel of the classic mismatched buddy road movie, and the “falling-in-love-with-initially-problematic-pet” sub-genre, and on the modest terms it sets for itself it massively over-delivers.
The mutt of the title is Lulu, a hulking Belgian Malinois with savagery in her bloodstream, the result of various tours of duty as a war dog. She must accompany Briggs on a 1,500 mile schlep across the east coast of the US to attend the funeral of her handler who slammed his car into a tree. Damaged by the trauma of conflict, and apparently unable to re-adjust to civilian life, Lulu (or is that Briggs?) eventually has a date with the vet’s needle – but maybe, just maybe, her ever-avuncular chauffeur can tame the beast while also dealing with his own regular seizures, the result of a brain injury incurred while on active duty.
It’s a story we’ve seen a hundred times before from every conceivable angle, yet what places Dog in a higher tier of such potentially vanilla fare is that care and attention has been placed on more than cultivating the central relationship. Briggs’ own inability to see a way out of the private hell of penury and accept his status as an invalid shines a subtle light on America’s “hump-’em-and-dump-’em” attitude towards its veterans. Yet Dog wears its politics lightly, never descending to outright critique and is also quick to showcase the pride, value and camaraderie of life in the military.
This magnanimous tone, where the film is comfortable to take gentle, well-aimed potshots at both sides of the political divide, serves to bolster the overall atmosphere of unyielding charm. Its episodic narrative, too, sometimes strays from the beaten path, courting a cliché and then suddenly turning away, or subverting it. There are numerous moments where all the signposts point towards a saccharine dirty bomb, and thankfully, the film seldom allows those to detonate.
Hanging out with Tatum in full cheeky patter mode (cf Magic Mike) for 90 minutes is pleasurable enough, but Dog also comes with some welcome Hitchcockian baggage where Lulu who,