[‘DOG’ Review]: A small charmer about a decommissioned service dog and his co-star Channing Tatum

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Travis Leamons // Film Critic

DOG

Rated PG-13, 97 minutes.
Directed by: Reid Carolin and Channing Tatum
Starring: Channing Tatum, Kevin Nash, Jane Adams, and Ethan Suplee

After taking a four year break – save lending his voice for a few animated features – Channing Tatum is getting back into the acting groove.

It started last year, appearing in an unadvertised role in FREE GUY. But his first, big return is an extension of a documentary he helped produce in 2017, WAR DOG: A SOLIDER’S BEST FRIEND. A relationship story between military vets and their service dogs, the doc would be a collaborative effort with the actor working behind the scenes with friend and former personal assistant, Brett Rodriguez (who was a military advisor on Kimberly Peirce’s STOP-LOSS starring Tatum), and producer-screenwriter Reid Carolin (MAGIC MIKE).

All three are reunited with DOG, a project that sounds like a 1990s family movie to pop in the old VHS player along with BEETHOVEN, AIR BUD, and FREE WILLY. The advertising makes it appear as much.

The short and simple-titled feature is, well, short and simple. A man and a dog take a road trip. Comedic mishaps occur, but this is not meant for kids or pre-teens. Its subject matter is serious if not patently obvious and it brings the feels in allowing the audience to both laugh and reflect.  

Tatum, who also co-directs, plays Briggs, a hard luck Army ranger looking to clear medical and get his C.O. to sign off on a new assignment. To get into active duty his major makes him an offer: transport service dog Lulu down the Pacific Coast and attend the funeral of the dog’s handler, Rodriguez, an Army ranger who served with Briggs.

Lulu the Belgian Malinois and Channing Tatum stars as Briggs in DOG.
Photo credit: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/SMPSP
© 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved


Road trips tend to go awry, and DOG is no exception. From a run-in with a cannabis couple to a blind con to get a free luxury hotel room, the story veers from wild, sitcomish set-ups to become a heartwarming tale of two souls in need of rescuing. Both Briggs and Lulu have scars of war from time served in combat, so the emotional baggage they carry is concealed but very heavy.

Among the personal belongings to return to Rodriguez’s family is an I Love Me Book, which is like an instruction manual for Lulu’s owner. Part scrapbook, part journal, Lulu’s book includes photos of the Belgian Malinois as a pup to adult, letters and mementos, and a DVD that calms her anxiety. At first, Briggs finds the keepsake a bit silly. It isn’t until the journey is nearly over where he starts to understand its purpose and his outlook changes.

The life of a service dog and its handler is a very insular one. To their credit, Tatum and Reid Carolin take what seems like a frivolous road comedy and make a surprisingly uplifting movie.   

DOG tones down the patriotic hoorah as seen in many military movies and it doesn’t give the sentiment a pass. Two key scenes involve Briggs talking with former a military cop now jockeying a desk in a police station. The ex-MP still harbors animosity towards Muslims. By this stage, Briggs is taken aback. The other scene is Lulu meeting his brother where Briggs reconnects with Noah (Ethan Suplee), a soldier who rehabilitated the dog after they discharged. Together they help change Briggs’ perspective about the road he wants to take.      

Sitting through the credits, the closing words were “In Memory of Lulu.” (Don’t worry, nothing happens to the dog in the movie.) The real Lulu was Tatum’s dog, a pit bull-Catahoula mix. The two took a road trip as she was approaching her final days. The idea of acceptance and moving on clearly was not lost as Channing channels that memory and getting a new leash on life. He does just that.   

Grade: B