18 April 2024

Film Review – Dog (2022)

It’s been a long time, Channing Tatum. The 21 Jump Street star has been on a self-imposed break from acting for the past few years, but this week sees his return, once again as one half of a double act. This time, however, his buddy has four legs.

Not that he and the dog of the title start out on the best of terms. Tatum is Briggs, a former Army Ranger desperate to get back to the military life he loves so much, but constantly having the door shut in his face. Until, that is, a one-time-only opportunity comes his way. His mission, should he choose to accept it (and, of course, he does), is to drive military dog Lulu (a Belgian Malinois) on a long distance journey along the Pacific Coast to the funeral of her much-loved handler. But, after her years on active service, she’s acquired a reputation for being aggressive, so the trip is anything but smooth.

It’s a familiar trope in triplicate. A buddy movie about a man’s relationship with his dog and a road trip story, one with the added appeal of Tatum himself and his companion’s canine cuteness. Even though, initially, much of that is hidden behind a muzzle. And, inevitably, it sets out to be a comedy with some set pieces designed to both raise a laugh and play on our empathy for the dog. There is, however, more going on just beneath the surface, because this odd couple are both suffering from the after effects of their military service. Briggs is haunted by dreams and panic attacks and Lulu’s aggression is down to a combination of the stress of her work and separation from her handler, the one human she trusted.

And it’s also familiar territory for Tatum and his co-director Reid Carolin. For their directorial debuts, they’ve returned to the documentary War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend for inspiration: as producers on the film, they met a number of military dog handlers and heard their stories. They’ve turned that experience into a soft hearted film, one that veers on the right side of sentiment, but which doesn’t approach its themes with the necessary depth or have enough humour to be a true comedy. Instead it uncomfortably straddles the no-man’s land in between the two, so that its patchiness is infused with disappointment.

Even the cinematography has a sense of the familiar: Tatum lounging on the hood of his truck, enjoying a beer with the dog by his side and against a glowing coastal sunset – that sort of thing. And while Dog doesn’t descend into being an out-and-out cliché, there are times when it comes perilously close. The dog itself helps, but the film is more of a sketch than the fully rounded story it could have been.

★★ 1/2

Drama, Comedy | Cert: 12A | UK Cinemas, 18 February 2022 | Entertainment Film | Dirs. Channing Tatum, Reid Carolin | Channing Tatum, Kevin Nash, Bill Burr, Jane Adams.

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