“Alright, alright, alright!” This quote is not meant to indicate that Matthew McConaughey has been signed on to Magic Mike 3, though he has publicly expressed an interest in doing so. That catcall is a reference to the directing duo of Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin. The Magic Mike co-directing duo offers the film Dog as it barks its way to your cineplex this weekend.
Featuring Tatum as Jackson Briggs, a former U.S. Army Ranger is the actor-director-producer’s first film to hit the silver screen in three years. Its story takes us on an adventure of two lost souls in search of, well, each other; this is not a sleight on the film. As a character, Briggs has integrity at his side as he seeks a way back into what he was conditioned and trained for – to be an Army Ranger. So, too is Lulu, a Belgian Malinois trained for duty on the field.
That’s where Briggs comes in. There is a hook, or rather a carrot, for Briggs if he completes this mission. We get two road-trippin’ souls on their way from the Pacific Northwest down to Arizona. As exhibited in Magic Mike, the story does lack some of Steven Soderbergh’s polish, leaving the story in a bit of a lurch. We don’t necessarily mind that, though.
Tatum and, to an extent, Carolin are learning the art of directing through Dog. What we do get are the wisps of a buddy comedy where neither one of our characters likes each other’s company nor wants it.
At the risk of sounding cliched, Dog spelled in reverse is God; this isn’t a way of saying that Dog is a religious film. That couldn’t be further from the film’s truth. Briggs’ journey to bring Lulu back to her handler’s funeral is spiritual. Carolin’s script, co-written with Brett Rodriguez, has more under the surface if the audience is willing to look for it, examining themes of trauma, abandonment, anxiety, and a need to fit in. The challenge with Lulu is that she is wild and unmanageable, and there is a noticeable lack of care on the part of the military to understand why.
Tatum and Carolin combat much of the dramatic prose through humor; this presents Dog as a Turner and Hooch–type story; its well-earned spirit justifies that reaction. The script succinctly conveys the resultant emotional walls we erect, especially when conditioned in a specialty such as an Army Ranger. Dog offers its spirituality through Lulu. I couldn’t even pretend to understand a canine’s behavior; however, we all have souls. We all seek a purpose, and when that purpose is altered, such as military activity, an activity that you can’t unsee when you’re dumped back into the real world, faced with the prospects of finding and holding a job that is beneath your talents, the world seems small.
Newton Thomas Sigel (Drive, Three Kings, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) opens that world up broadly. Through his lens, you can feel Briggs and Lulu coming together. With Tatum and Carolin, Sigel strikes a visual balance between the horrors of Briggs and Lulu’s past, the various situations and characters they meet along the way, and the understanding of two souls discovering each other. The three mentioned films that Sigel lensed are significant indicators of what you can expect from his work here. Dog presents obfuscated darkness, bright, open vistas in the desert, in the rocky terrain of the northwest, the rolling hills and cement-laden streets of San Francisco, and a classy intimacy of the characters.
If I’m waxing overly poetic about Dog, it’s out of respect for Tatum and the spiritual journey he takes us on. I’m a fiend for road trips. Ethan Suplee’s character, Noah, is the calm within the storm. No human is perfect out of the box; Dog manages to explore the aftermath of war, untangling the conditioning, finding a connection between two lost souls. Out of its chaos, inner peace descends on the audience. The trick with the film is that we don’t feel it until the third act.
Dog digs its heels in, ready to stand its ground. And for that, we’re rewarded with a tremendous, if imperfect, journey. Much like The Cursed, which also opens this weekend, this story has been told ad infinitum. This Dog wags its tail with uniqueness for its characters and situations, especially the cinematography, constantly using its power to surprise us.
Directed by Channing Tatum & Reid Carolin
Screenplay by Reid Carolin
Story by Reid Carolin & Brett Rodriguez
Starring Channing Tatum, Jane Adams, Kevin Nash, Q’orianka Kitcher, Ethan Suplee, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Bill Burr
101 minutes, PG-13, United Artists Releasing/Metro-Goldwyn Mayer