I tend not to get lost in discussions of how films are marketed. If you’re dumb enough to fall for a film’s marketing campaign or don’t understand that trailers quite frequently make good movies look bad and bad movies look good, then you deserve to be fooled by everything in your life. I can’t stand it when somebody complains to me that they didn’t like a film because it wasn’t the film that was marketed to them. So by that logic, a film is bad if it doesn’t meet your preconceived idea of what it should be, which has nothing to do with how good or bad the actual film is? All of that being said, the marketers of the new Channing Tatum-starring and co-directed film Dog should be ashamed of themselves for marketing their movie as a feel-good, road trip tale about a charming guy named Briggs and a gruff but lovable Belgian Malinois named Lulu who must travel down the Pacific Coast to make it to the funeral of the dog’s previous owner and Briggs’ fellow Army Ranger Riley (Eric Urbiztondo).
Part of that synopsis is true, and I know people who want to take their kids to see this movie because those kids love dogs. I’m going to advise against that, which is not to say that Dog doesn’t have its moments that genuinely work. The real problem with the movie is tone. Again, I don’t usually have issues with a film that decides to try on multiple tones during the course of its running time. But Dog is all over the place, trying on different vibes like it can’t decide what t-shirt to wear.
Working from a screenplay by co-director Reid Carolin (who produced the Magic Mike movies), the filmmakers give us a serious film about wartime trauma suffered by both Briggs and Lulu; a road comedy where Briggs is about to have sex with two women in Portland before Lulu puts an end to that; a stoner comedy, where Briggs follows a runaway Lulu to a pot farm run by an old hippie couple (Jane Adams and Kevin Nash); a dog-training lesson given by Ethan Suplee, the owner of Lulu’s brother; and finally, the story of a man who must face up to and deal with his personal damage so he can earn the right to be a part of his young daughter’s life. Tatum is required to be everything from funny to deadly serious, sometimes within the span of a single scene, and it’s not that he’s not capable of it. In fact, it’s because he’s able to embody both of those extremes and everything in between that Dog feels so jarringly uneven so much of the time.
All the while, Briggs is suffering from a brain injury that gives him seizures if he doesn’t take his meds regularly, which doesn’t stop him from wanting to go back onto the battlefield. Even the reason he’s making this trip with the dog isn’t out of the kindness of his own heart; he’s been promised by his commanding officer to clear him for duty again if he transports this dog. We expect the long journey to be life altering for both animal and human, and that’s exactly what happens, so Dog isn’t really about surprising you on any level. Even the big “reveal” about the fate of Lulu’s previous partner seems telescoped from the earliest parts of the movie.
It’s not that there aren’t things to enjoy about Dog. Tatum has a natural, laid-back charisma that I have yet to tire of. He’s been gone from the acting world for a while (outside of a few animated films and cameos), so it’s great to see him back on the boards in anything (I’m even weirdly excited about seeing him next month in the action-comedy The Lost City, opposite Sandra Bullock). With another actor, this one might be skippable, but with Tatum holding down the fort, I have to lean toward a modest recommendation.
The film is now playing in theaters.
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