Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

If a hunky, emotionally vulnerable Channing Tatum and a traumatized Belgian Malinois dog taking a life-affirming road trip together sounds like your idea of a good time, boy have I got news for you. Dog, also co-directed by Tatum and Reid Carolin, takes this delightful concept and runs with it. Tatum plays Briggs, a former Army Ranger who is about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. A damaged doggie and a damaged army vet—what could possibly go wrong?

From the opening credits, Lulu the dog has an eclectic personality built in right off the bat. Pictures and scrapbooking seem to revel in the beautiful relationship Lulu once had with her owner, even up to an injury she sustained that left her anxious and sensitive to light. Lulu’s owner, Riley, tragically passes away right as the film begins. This leaves the door wide open for Briggs, who is desperate join a new battalion. In order to get a recommendation, Briggs is tasked with a very special mission: transport Lulu in a Ford Bronco to Riley’s funeral—all the way to Arizona—where the dog herself is to be featured as the guest of honor.

Naturally, transporting Lulu is no simple task. At first muzzled and left in a crate, Briggs is told not to take Lulu out in public—“she has every combat trigger in the book.” After the service, the plan is to put her down. Briggs does not want Lulu muzzled and locked away, but his kindnesses come tethered to questionable ethical decisions he makes along the way. The bond between dog and man comes about naturally; both Lulu and Briggs have deep mental issues brought about by combat injuries. For Briggs, his history of brain injuries is one of the deciding factors in why it has been so difficult for him to get back out onto the field. Lulu’s problems stem from her training, including a reluctance to eat food from one’s hand, and a hatred towards particular races of humans. 

The relationship is complete symbiosis. Briggs needs Lulu just as much as she needs him. It helps that Tatum shares the screen with such a lovable creature that one cannot help how smitten they become. At one point, Briggs even bathes with Lulu. “You’re definitely not the girl I thought I’d be in a tub with, but hey, I’ll take what I can get at this point,” Briggs says to Lulu. This kind of charm is not easily replicated, and must come into being organically. Everything about Dog feels true to life, including Briggs and his character flaws. 

An unconventional road trip movie at its core, Dog is a splendid and complex dramedy that gives Channing Tatum a more-than-worthy scene partner. Without forcing in a generic love triangle or cringe-worthy childish dog hijinks, this smart script manages to be a mature and fun movie filled with heart. Dog may not carry the bold sexiness of Magic Mike or the belly laughs of 21 Jump Street, but it does make a more than worthy addition into Channing Tatum’s filmography.

Dog comes off its leash when it debuts exclusively in theaters on Friday, February 18th. 

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