The demands audiences make of cute-dog films are fairly basic. Is there a dog? And is she cute?
“Dog” — can’t beat that title! — delivers on those two essential pillars. Lulu, a Belgian Malinois who’s been left traumatized by her experience overseas as an Army dog, is adorable. And she forms a moving bond with a veteran with PTSD, Briggs, played by Channing Tatum.
Running time: 101 minutes. Rated PG-13 (language, thematic elements, drug content and some suggestive material).
Otherwise, we’re handed a serviceable movie about servicemen. Briggs — desperate to go back to being an Army ranger, but no longer mentally fit — strikes a deal with his old captain: If he drives Lulu to her previous owner’s funeral in Arizona, the captain will let him come back.
Thus begins a road trip, and Briggs, an unpleasant schlub who starts out not liking Lulu, winds up in some unnecessarily over-the-top mischief. He’s drugged and tied up by a hippie, who then apologizes and smokes pot with him; he tries to have a threesome with two Oregonian sex therapists, but is interrupted by a PETA-type who tries to free his canine comrade; and he pretends to be a blind man to get a free hotel room.
All we want is to say “aww” a lot — nobody is asking for the Marx Brothers here. The antics are surely what earned the movie a PG-13 rating, which makes no sense for a family film about a freakin’ dog.
Anyhow, the best bits are calmer exchanges on the road or a warm scene in a barn during a storm that frightens Lulu because the thunder outside sounds like bombs. As she relaxes by watching her favorite show, “Grey’s Anatomy,” on a little old TV, we begin to see the color return to Lulu’s face.
Shamelessly sentimental — but awfully hard to be cranky about — is the funeral when Lulu is reunited with her owner who died at a young age. You can guess what she does, and you’ll cry, unless of course you are an ex-KGB agent or a living statue in Times Square.
Tatum (he also co-directs with Reid Carolin) was a good pick for Briggs because he’s easily likable without overdoing it. Acting alongside a dog is always a humbling experience because, chances are, nobody’s eyes are on you.
The actor lets his cuddly co-star shine and wrings out a few touching moments of his own, too.