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Who's a Good Boy? Channing Tatum's a Good Boy With His Just-Shaggy-Enough Star Vehicle 'Dog'

By Jason Adams | Film | February 18, 2022 |

By Jason Adams | Film | February 18, 2022 |


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The first time we see Channing Tatum in Dog, which the model-turned-actor co-wrote and co-directed along with his longtime producing partner Reid Carolin, he’s sprawled out across the floor in his underwear, his million dollar derrière lovingly framed and lit just so. Framed and lit just so under his own directorial supervision that is, to be clear—this was a choice that Channing Tatum himself made. Which leads me to the question: has any actor ever so good-naturedly embraced their status as an object of desire as this Magic Mike star has? When pretty-boys of times past like Warren Beatty or Kevin Costner (yes he was once a pretty boy; you had to be there) wanted to be Serious Filmmakers, they sure didn’t film themselves like this. And for at-the-time good reason—if you lean too hard into it this could come off as toxic narcissism real fast. But I say Tatum pulls off the trick without any such ugliness—first off we live in an age where the sexualization of male actors is more openly acceptable. And for another Channing’s particular humble who’s-a-good-boy charm and happy-go-lucky goofiness, they just strip it down to its purest beefcake essence with a wink and a smile, and another smile for good measure.

There’s something dare I say dog-like about his easy-breezy nature—you get the sense he’d also like a nuzzle under the chin and a rub behind the ears—which makes this wildly old-fashioned movie also go down far easier than it might have in more calloused hands. Tatum’s frequent collaborator Steven Soderbergh for example, as great as Soderbergh is, could never spill out something this simple and sweet. After watching the movie I got home and I tried to explain the plot—which sees Tatum playing an ex-soldier tasked with bringing a combat-scarred attack-trained danger pup on a road trip to the funeral of his ex-buddy, the dog’s ex-owner—to my boyfriend, and my boyfriend started laughing at the string of cliches before I could even get halfway through them all. And yet I found myself on the defensive, straining to explain it better because the movie’s so dang unpretentious about its aims that you find yourself drawn into its corner, cliches be damned.

A fictionalized spin on the 2017 HBO documentary War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend, Dog sees Tatum playing forcefully-retired Army Ranger Jackson Briggs (and tell me that’s not the most “Channing Tatum Movie Character” name they could have possibly come up with), who got a brain injury while on duty in Afghanistan and is one forgotten dose of medication away from a seizure at all times. Not that he doesn’t seem physically capable—he is, after all, Channing Tatum—but the camera helpfully zooms in on a scar on the back of his head every so often to remind us that this Grecian Statue is perhaps cracking up a bit. Against the odds of his medical situation, Briggs is trying to get back into uniform anyway, but he needs permission from his commanding officer Jones (Luke Forbes) and Jones doesn’t seem, to put it mildly, very willing.

But then an opportunity presents itself when their former friend and fellow soldier Rodriguez (Eric Urbiztondo) drives himself full-speed into a tree. Rodriguez’s mother wants the dog that her son had grown close to at her son’s funeral, and the Army needs somebody to drive the battle-scarred killing-machine (somebody calls it a “furry flash-bomb” at one point) from Northern to Southern California in a week’s time for the service. So Jones makes a deal with Briggs—drive the dog to the place without any bullshit going down and he’ll make the call Briggs needs him to make. And so our lighthearted buddy-comedy slash road-trip movie about an adorable (and also oft-terrifying!) Belgian Malinois named Lulu (played by three different dog actors, and named after Channing’s own recently-demised pup) and a sweet sad soldier-man begins in earnest, and I do mean earnest. There’s not an insincere doggy bone in Dog’s whole body.

But there is suicide and there is PTSD aplenty, which leavens Dog’s corn just enough so your eyes are pulled back from the brink of the rolling they might’ve considered under less crafty computations. Yes, the road trip Briggs and Lulu go on becomes one of those non-stop parades of broad-ish characters played by inviting character actors a la Away We Go or Little Miss Sunshine, with each stop along the highway becoming its own capital-B Bit. Here’s a group of Portlandia stereotypes clutching tiny dogs and burning incense to spiritually accommodate a spontaneous threesome! Here’s a pot farmer (Magic Mike’s Kevin Nash) and his loopy psychic wife (the always welcome Jane Adams, the loopier the better) who hog-tie Channing up because of a bizarre miscommunication!

And yet Dog, despite the occasional broadness, mostly manages to rein itself in admirably, and focus in on the trauma embedded in the hearts and brains and backsides of these combat vets, each of them left shaking in fear at the sound of thunder and lightning. One of them might wear a white t-shirt soaking wet from the rain a little more erotically than the other one, sure. But aren’t we all creatures alike in our communal pain? Shaggy in the 70s sense, Dog is an ambling movie-star vehicle that’s got enough rust on its vanity plates so you don’t feel too conspicuous about just giving in and enjoying the ride, even as you’re damn well sure where we’re going from the furry first frame.



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Image sources (in order of posting): MGM, United Artists Releasing,