Synopsis: A road trip movie whose travelers are a military dog and her chauffeur. (Streaming on Amazon Prime as of October 2022)
Calling all dog lovers. True to its title, Dog is about a dog, specifically a Belgian Malinois named Lulu. Thankfully, her human co-star, Channing Tatum, is not a spotlight hog and doggo gets plenty of screentime. (Lulu is played by: Zuza, Britta and Lana 5.)
Co-director Channing Tatum reports that he wanted to do a project in honor of his dearly departed pitbull mix, Lulu, who had been a big part of his life. I used to think that the best thing about Channing Tatum was that he isn’t Chris Pratt. Now I think that the best thing about him is that he’s a dog lover.
Dog is a road movie of sorts. Channing’s character is Jackson Briggs, a former Army Ranger living near Fort Lewis in Washington state. He’s been removed from duty because of a traumatic brain injury suffered during battle in Afghanistan. The stakes are much higher here than if he were say, a male exotic dancer named Magic Mike who slipped a disc while gyrating around stage.
Chann wants to get back into service, which sounds crazy to me since this seems like a surefire way to get another TBI. But I admit that he looks very unfulfilled working at a sub shop. He does his darndest, yet customers berate him for confusing pickles with cucumbers. Get ready because this is the first of many examples of how Americans today don’t honor real heroes like sandwich makers who are also veterans.
When Chann is not suffering from night sweats, headaches and ringing ears, he is crusading to get back into combat by calling old contacts. Now, I’m all for networking, but it seems in poor taste when he does so at an informal memorial service for a fellow soldier, Rodriguez who died when he crashed his speeding car. Was it suicide or just recklessness? We don’t know, but another soldier remarks that Rangers “find a way to die.” Huh?
In between beers, Chann asks a former commanding officer to sign off on him re-entering service. Okay, says the officer, but only if you drive Rodriguez’ former K-9 partner to his funeral in Arizona. Chann is warned that Lulu has become aggressive, and no one can handle her, so she’ll be euthanized right after the family gets to meet her at the funeral. No!! Strangely, Chann handles the news like a heartless oaf.
When we first set eyes on Lulu, she is on base, lying in a kennel, muzzled and looking forlorn. Chann is supposed to already be acquainted with her because he served with Rodriguez. But instead of approaching her in a friendly way, he lumbers over to her like a sumo wrestler, staring at her with a hard look, and waving a leash around. The dog attacks him and the soldiers who had been looking on, laugh. (If it was Chris Pratt, I would’ve laughed too.) Chann manages to get the dog in his old Ford Bronco (guess Uncle Sam wouldn’t loan him a vehicle). He sets out and gives her a talk about how it’s his way or the highway.
Now, if one is transporting a stressed out, reactive dog wouldn’t it just be common sense to not leave the dog crated in the car? But boneheaded Chann does this so he can go to a shooting range. The displaced dog chews her way out of her crate and rips up the truck’s upholstery. When Chann comes out and sees the damage he’s perturbed. Ha ha, the movie seems to say, score one for the dog. Channing quickly hoofs over to a convenience store, buys some hotdogs and over-the-counter sedatives. Will this be his lunch? No, he slips it to the dog through the cracked open window. Wtf?! Cut to a scene of a triumphant Chann driving with the dog konked out.
A road trip should be fun for all involved, right? So when the pair roll into Portland, Oregon, I thought Chann might take Lulu to a dog-friendly park and then turn in early. No, because Chann wants to get laid, so once again he leaves the dog in the truck. He heads into a bar and tries to blend in with the locals. The women he approaches dismiss him and his military service. They say things like: When did you realize you were a pawn of big oil? A woman sneers at him and accuses him of having a “white savior complex.” We’re invited to laugh at Portlanders and their silly, dare I say, un-American thoughts and concerns.
Chann does end up in bed with two women he met just outside the bar. While he’s at their place, the dog is stuck in the truck. The women burn sage and talk about aligning chakras. Jokes follow about informed consent. Meanwhile a passerby tries to free the dog from the truck, but we’re not supposed to like him because he’s some Portland do-gooder who doesn’t appreciate the dog’s military service. When Chann hears the commotion, he runs out half-naked (hubba hubba) and yells at the guy to get away from the truck. The guy calls him a redneck. Okay, so now this jerk who doesn’t feed dogs sedatives is disrespecting a former Ranger! Time to get out of Portland…
Chann needs to get to Arizona and back to the gym– those pecs won’t work out themselves stuck behind a steering wheel! Misadventures follow involving a weed dealer who says she can read Lulu’s mind (“Get me away from this cretin”), a cop who disrespects Army Rangers (he was an MP, who we’re led to believe are jealous of Rangers) and hotel staff who naively try to honor his military service (he pretends he’s blind to get perks).
In spite of himself, Chann starts to bond with Lulu. On one stretch of road, he muses to doggo about people who don’t know what it’s like to serve your country. She, he declares, has lived a legendary life. Says the guy who is bringing her to get a lethal injection. Oh, and I need to tell you that Lulu was relaxing and not attacking anyone!
Dog is better when it’s not forcing the– sometimes questionable– humor and exploring how Chann actually gets self-reflective and tries to make amends to significant others he’s neglected. I’m not sure if his Magic Mike character ever did that.
The doggo, in spite of being stuck on a road trip with boneheaded Chann, begins to recover. I don’t know if the movie meant to convey that Lulu became aggressive because she was missing her handler and/or because she was traumatized by overseas battles. The movie certainly doesn’t want to get into the politics of America’s 21st Century combatting or the ethics of exploiting dogs’ loyalty, senses and sharp teeth. But I couldn’t help but think about the politics of soldiers’ patriotism being exploited for unattainable objectives. And the ethics of breeding pups for the unremitting stress and danger of being combat dogs.
As for movie Lulu, she’s a real trooper for putting up with Chann’s lack of canine insights. In one sequence the two are hunkered down in an empty barn when a thunderstorm causes Lulu to bark and lunge at Chann. Instead of talking to her calmly, he yells Chill out!! at her and this supposedly leads to a breakthrough in their relationship. Lulu then sits calmly, Chann crouches outside in the rain; they both look amazing. Later that night they share popcorn. PTSD resolved.
But what about the funeral and the execution date? Is getting back into service all that Chann cares about? No spoilers, but rest assured that, since this is not a Quentin Tarantino film, it’s safe to stream Dog for the kids.
P.S. Dogs being smart, athletic pack animals, humans have made use of their labor for centuries, eg., sheepherding and in more recent years as drug sniffing animals. Their abilities as guard and police dogs are well-known. When dogs go into combat they face danger and unremitting stress. I get that soldiers do too; but a dog doesn’t have an understanding of the why of the mission to strengthen their resolve. Or any choice in the matter, unlike undrafted soldiers. Did you know that after the Vietnam War, the American military euthanized or abandoned the military dogs? So much for the Defense Department’s appreciation of heroes. Click here for a short article on this. Thankfully, there is more hope for today’s military dogs. Check out info for military dog homing here.
Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: If you can put up with how obnoxious Channing Tatum’s character is for the first half of the movie, it’s worth it to see the Belgian Malinois who feature in the film with their magnificent dignity and soulful gazes.
Humor Highlight: How Lulu typically outsmarts her human companion.
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