The buddy-dog road trip movie sounds about as generic and Disneyfied as just about any genre can be. And the fact that Channing Tatum’s Dog is too mature—in comedic material if not always in theme—to completely fit into this box of expectations is probably the best thing that can be said about the defiantly mediocre film.
Briggs (Tatum) is a U.S. Army Ranger who doesn’t know when to get out of the fight. His medical record is preventing him from getting back in, but his commanding officer is willing to bend some rules if Briggs successfully delivers Lulu, a combat-tested Belgian Malinois “inspired” by Tatum’s former dog, to the funeral of her former handler and his co-soldier. Lulu, like Briggs, would benefit from some rehabilitation: she’s almost uncontrollably violent, snappy, and plain mean. When he returns from the funeral, the dog will be put down and Briggs will be ready for his next tour of duty.
Commanded to take Lulu directly from Fort Lewis, Colorado to the funeral in Nogales, Arizona, Briggs instead opts to take a more scenic drive and have some fun on the way, thereby placing Lulu in some rather risky situations given her temperament. The pit stops they make on the way to the wedding are mostly fun, but void of substance or weight (with only one exception). It’s pretty much one of those dog movies, but for adults. Weed farms, threesomes, and alcohol all are given their due.
I suspect Dog might resonate well with a socially-conservative audience. West coast progressives, like the same-sex Portland couple whose work uses plants to “unblock energies” and enable more complete sexual experiences, are wildly caricatured. The primary dead soldier, Sergeant Riley Rodriguez, is a hero without any necessary qualifiers even though he died away from the battlefield—presumably by suicide.
This is not to say it’s uncontestedly a conservative movie. Sergeant Jones (Luke Forbes) and his willingness to cut corners represents the systemic lack of care for life at the center of the U.S. military. Likewise, Tatum’s adept performance as Briggs manages to adequately capture the inconsistencies of the hero-soldier complex. His character’s struggle is about whether or not he will realize the military is destroying him in time to avoid ending up like Rodriguez.
At one point, Lulu attacks Dr. Junaid (Junes Zahdi), a Muslim man dressed in wedding attire, forcing Briggs to explain her past where she was trained to attack men who looked like the doctor. While this is by no means a perfectly pedagogical political interaction, Dr. Junaid decides to not press charges upon hearing the apologies and sorrows of this grieving man—and he realizes his brokenness, making him promise to seek professional help when he returns. The former soldier’s healing process is started at the hands of a Muslim man—not exactly the expected outcome from a conservative movie centered on a Ranger.
dir. Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin
Opens Friday, 2/18 in theaters everywhere (though, as always, the Hassle recommends seeking out a locally-owned multiplex)