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Dog Review: Channing Tatum’s Directing Debut Is A Solid, Heartwarming Hit

Sit for the buddy comedy, stay for the emotional drama.

Channing Tatum sits on the ground with his canine companion in Dog.
(Image: © MGM)

Whether it’s for the amusement of families and adults alike, the long held traditions of animal-based adventure and road trip shenanigans are two of the safest bets at the movies. It’s not so much the formula that wins the audience over, but rather the execution, as anyone can identify to loving a pet or journeying with a friend. Directors Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin grasp that concept rather well with their directing debut, Dog, which melds those two staples into one whole. Though the finished product could use a little more depth, it’s still an impressive start for both helmers, as well as an emotional odyssey that balances tears and laughter to great effect. 

A cluster of vaguely familiar ideas make up the total story to this film, which was penned by Reid Carolin from a story he worked on with co-writer Brett Rodriguez. The basic framework is a journey against time, as the odd couple of U.S. Army Ranger Jackson Briggs (Tatum) and his canine ward Lulu sees man and beast racing to deliver the latter to a very important funeral. With Briggs looking to get back into action, this good deed could be the ticket to his fruitful future. Of course, as we’ve seen in many animal based films like Dog, that’s easier said than done. 

Making his first film as a co-director, Channing Tatum balances a new trick with his usual brand of humanity.

If it weren’t widely publicized that Channing Tatum was trying his hand with directing in this film, you’d probably be shocked to see his name come up with a credit confirming it. Both he and Reid Carolin’s first time out as co-directors is not reflected one bit in the finished product. Confidence reigns supreme in their approach, and it only highlights Tatum’s acting performance in the film all the better, as he shows up to play both in front of and behind the camera.

A good majority of the picture sees Channing Tatum interacting with the three German Malinois that play the part of Lulu. There’s also colorful cast of human characters who also pop up from time to time, allowing the story to branch into further development naturally. However, that still doesn’t change the fact that most of this movie is Channing Tatum and his dog, and that's perfectly alright.

With his acting talents in the driver’s seat in front of the camera, Channing Tatum's Dog is a supremely effective vehicle for the multi-hyphenate to break out all of his talents. Charming, snarky humor is tempered by moments of personal introspection and breakdown, which sees our protagonist both as fool and hero. You can fully believe in Jackson Briggs as a character and as a person at all times, which makes the slightly uneven story much easier to watch. 

Dog walks a fine line between family friendly and more adult oriented humor, and it works more often than it doesn’t.

There is a tonal inequality in Dog that’s always present, and never really goes away. On one hand, the story is trying to play itself as a care free road trip that adults can kick back and enjoy. In another respect, some of the interactions and moments between Jackson and Lulu feel like they belong in a more serious family-based melodrama that studios may have made in the mid-to-late ‘90s. Playing as a mixed bag between those two concepts, there’s a fine line audiences need to walk before deciding whether this movie is for them.

Nothing horrific or obscene takes place, as this is a PG-13 rated film after all. That being said, a comedic moment where Channing Tatum’s character is trying to score a tantric sex three-way definitely feels out of place. Not to mention, the brief detour into Tatum’s Jackson contemplating killing a man (Kevin Nash) with an ax comes and goes so quickly, you have to wonder why it was even included in the first place. It doesn’t kill the vibe that this story’s going for, but it leads to some confusion as if this is a movie you’d want to take your kids to or not.

In that light, the political subtext of Dog shines as a standout for what makes the tone of this movie work more often than it doesn’t. As we see Jackson and Lulu make their journey, and the two former combatants deal with their collective PTSD, a message about the veteran experience does present itself loud and clear. The big difference is that Dog’s story shows empathy for the warfighters and the animals that aid them, while also foregoing any glorification of armed combat. 

It’s a film with a clear message on its mind, and it’s told in a way that everyone on the spectrum of politics can get behind it without many complaints.

More than adorable canine action and Channing Tatum charm, there are surprising depths to be discovered in Dog.

Dog isn’t a hard movie to sell, as you’ve got adorable German Malinoises and Channing Tatum sharing the screen. As far as likability is concerned, the vibes you’ve seen in the marketing match what you get out of the actual movie. If we were to leave it at that, this could be a simple base hit that keeps audiences smiling. 

Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin aren’t content to merely goof around with putting their central pair of characters into weird situations for laughs. Throughout the heart of this story are moments where hijinks are put aside for dramatic challenges to both Lulu and Jackson, and thanks to the even handed approach of Dog, they’re allowed to exist largely free of comedy. During a scene where Tatum’s soldier tries to comfort his canine charge in a thunderstorm, a DVD of Grey’s Anatomy reruns becomes the ticket to doggy tranquility. It’s built into the character, but it’s also a component that’s not played overtly for laughs until the gravity of the moment has been established. 

It’s touches like that which really highlight the deceptive depths of Dog, as no one emotion is worn to the point of breaking. You will absolutely laugh and cry while enjoying the easy charms of this movie, and there’s no way around that. However, as the marketing itself has highlighted, this is a movie where the dog doesn’t die. So don’t think you’re in for an emotionally draining film you can only watch once. If you like dogs, Channing Tatum, and dramatic comedies that use both to great effect, congratulations: you’ve been thrown a rather tasty and entertaining bone.

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.