You’ll have a tough time finding a blander, more flavorless film than Dog, a picture that fancies itself a silly buddy comedy, a touching bromance and a searing drama but manages to churn out only an unreasonably bad facsimile of them all.
Films featuring animals as leads (or co-leads) generally aim low and hover there, cashing in on base emotions to generate an artificial connection, and Dog doubles down on its unearned cache — adding veterans suffering from PTSD to create an empathy soup from which to feed the audience.
Briggs (Channing Tatum, also making his debut behind the camera as co-director) is a former Army Ranger trying to make his way through post-deployment life as he navigates the aftereffects of a brain injury suffered in combat. Looking to his captain for a job endorsement, Briggs reluctantly agrees to take Lulu, a K-9 Ranger, to the funeral of their friend in California.
In their past lives, Briggs and Lulu were friendly, but war is hell, and Lulu was left with severe anxiety and PTSD. She can’t be around people but also can’t be left alone, and while combat dogs are often adopted out after their tours are over, Lulu’s problems disqualify her. Her destiny seems clear: After the funeral, she will be put down.
So the mismatched duo takes to the road for one last hurrah for Lulu, and a chance for Briggs to score some women, knock back a few drinks and have some fun.
Dog isn’t even a film that begins and ends so much as it just occurs, existing for about the length of time a film should exist before fading to black without much of a climax to speak of, a series of vignettes with a common thread that never really forms into a cohesive film.
In one, Briggs meets a pair of hippie weed farmers, played by Jane Adams and Kevin Nash. Their naturally soothing demeanor calms Lulu, and Briggs learns a few pointers on how to approach his new charge. This is a common theme in movies of this type, where an unlikely source provides new information, and indeed this is probably the single-most entertaining sequence of the film, but it’s also a bizarre segment that starts with Briggs zip-tied to a chair.
In another, Briggs pretends to be blind (with Lulu as his guide dog) to score a free hotel room and hit on women. In yet another, he uses Lulu in an attempt to have a threesome with two earthy women … while Lulu waits in the car, melting down the entire time.
These are all examples of the film’s jarring juxtaposition, which takes turns spotlighting PTSD, creating unlikely quasi-comedic scenarios, and focusing on the relationship between man and dog. While the film spotlights the problems Briggs and Lulu each have, we’re neither asked to examine the cause of those issues nor are supposed to know how their characters treat them.
The death of their friend is left ambiguous, but we’re clearly guided to examine the possibility that it’s a suicide. That creates a common thread between the three, which Dog then promptly ignores. The film alternately takes a sensitive tack to Briggs and Lulu’s plight at times, then uses it for comedic fodder at others. Oh well, can’t have a cool military and big wars without breaking a few brains, I guess.
As the film’s centerpiece, Tatum’s performance is wildly uneven. It’s almost as if he’s playing a slowed-down version of his own persona, attempting a fast-talking funnyman shtick but falling flat at most times. There are sequences where he’s clearly pushing hard to be carefree and street-smart but comes closer to conveying all the self-assuredness of a first-time Saturday Night Live guest host reading cue cards.
Make no mistake: There is a solid, heartwarming crowd-pleaser somewhere in here, and of course, post-combat PTSD is a very real, very serious issue for soldiers of all types, canine or human. But those issues aren’t addressed here in any sort of real, meaningful way.
A film that shoots low and still somehow manages to miss the mark, Dog is the type of film audiences lap up, and it will probably make money. It’s the sort of film we expect to like because, of course, we can’t hate on dogs and the troops, and this movie is theoretically about both. In trying to be everything, Dog ends up being about nothing.