Sincerity overcomes some clumsy direction in the dog movie ‘Dog’

Bonding time: Channing Tatum plays an ex-soldier who befriends an unruly army dog in ‘Dog’.

DOG *** (101 minutes) M
The latest in a long line of films promoting the long-cherished idea that dogs are not just a companion to man but an extension of his very psyche, the dramedy Dog presents a typically congenial, occasionally touching, if far-from-exceptional tale of the bond between two damaged souls, both wounded by the same war.

Unhappily working in a sandwich shop, war veteran Jackson Briggs (Channing Tatum) is eager to get back into the thick of America’s never-ending battle in the Middle East (or thereabouts).

Snag is, he keeps getting rejected because of a brain injury. It disturbs his sleep and requires plenty of medication, administered both by prescription and bottle.

After some literal begging, Briggs strikes a deal with an army pal, a superior officer who has the authority to push through the paperwork. All Briggs has to do is transport a seasoned army dog called Lulu to the funeral of her fallen handler, several day’s drive away.

Primed for war, Lulu (a Belgian Malinois, not to be confused with a German shepherd) proves more than a handful as Briggs quickly learns that the huge Bane-like muzzle strapped to her mouth is not there for decoration.

So the film dutifully hits that road trip movie mode where two warring souls find common ground and a measure of peace during their journey as they come to know each other.

Lulu likes tearing into things, a la Turner and Hooch, inconveniently barking away while Briggs is trying to have a threesome with two tantric-minded women in Portland, Oregon – the only women, as it turns out, who won’t let wokeism get in the way of having sex with somebody so physically alluring.

There’s some very wobbly direction on show in Dog as it veers from comedy to drama and back again.

If you didn’t know you probably could have deduced that the film marks the directorial debut of Channing Tatum and his long-time collaborator writer/producer Reid Carolin (he wrote and producer the Magic Mike films), who co-penned Dog with Brett Rodriguez.

The man-dog buddy stuff gets laid on a bit thick, with the amount of talking Briggs does to Lulu becoming a tad excessive, sharing every thought and reaction verbally. That said, Tatum puts in a creditable performance.

And while the film makes a good fist at addressing the plight of returned soldiers, some of the comedy spots are awkardly staged, such as when Briggs feigns blindness to get a free room in a hotel, or when the pair run into a couple of weed farmers deep in the forest.

There’s also the nagging issue of how Lulu’s fiery temperament dials down without sufficient understanding as to why. One scene she’s a brute, a few sunset shots of her sitting with Briggs on the bonnet of their car later and Lulu seems back to her old self.

There’s an interesting echo of Sam Fuller’s lost classic White Dog, in which a dog is trained to attack people based on race; when Lulu sees a Middle Eastern man in traditional dress she promptly attacks him as she would an enemy in the field. It’s a fascinating story point that’s left hanging.

In one of the film’s clumsiest scenes notable American non-PC comedian Bill Burr chimes in as an army veteran, now a cop, who, like Lulu, has ingrained prejudices and tries to buddy up to Briggs as a Red State comrade.

Though three dogs are credited with playing Lulu, there are a few too many scenes where the “acting” is so specific one wonders just how much of the dog was real and how much was rendered. A quick scan of the net doesn’t reveal if any of the dog action in Dog was digital, but if we’re to take it on faith that Lulu is actual, cautious kudos to the film for hitting a new highpoint in animal acting.

It’s no great shakes but with just enough sincerity to make up for some clumsy direction, Dog thankfully turns out to be a film that does not live up to its name.

Footnote There have been a few notable dog movies featuring female humans: The Journey of Natty Gann; Wendy and Lucy; arguably Marley and Me, though Jennifer Aniston took second place to Owen Wilson’s pooch.

And, of course, movie dogs have give support to females in non-dog movies; Dorothy had Toto in The Wizard of Oz; there was the shaggy mutt in Annie; and, of course, Elle had her chihuahua in Legally Blonde.

Yet your standard dog movie has mostly been a bloke’s domain. Why?

One reason could be that men find the loyalty of dogs more reliable and emotionally valuable than any quality they find in fellow humans, including women.

Take as testment the work of Jim Belushi.

In the vastly underrated 1989 comedy K-9 he played a cop whose canine partner was so devoted it was willing to jump into the path of a bullet for him. It wasn’t quite as good as the Tom Hanks film Turner and Hooch, which came out the same year, but it was a perfectly sound, serviceable dog-movie comedy that never got the salute it deserved.

It was also Belushi who, in Oliver Stone’s Salvador gave us the memorable line after discovering his beloved dog Bagel had to be put down by the pound because he had left it too long to come collect him.

“I can’t believe it. That was my only relationship. Seven years. My marriage only lasted five.”

Now that’s a bond.