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‘Dog’ Film Review: Channing Tatum and an Army Canine Take an Uneven Road Trip

Fans of Tatum, dogs and ostentatiously supporting the troops appear to be the target audience

The camera loves Channing Tatum, and that makes up for a lot in “Dog,” a corny road movie that mostly panders to fans of Tatum and/or dogs, as well as any moviegoer who still thinks that making a big show of supporting the troops (any troops) makes them more human than, uh, most everyone else.

Tatum plays Army Ranger Jackson Briggs, a selfish but irrepressible grunt who travels along the Pacific coast (from Washington to Arizona) with Lulu, an aggressive but misunderstood Army dog who’s scheduled to be put down after she makes a guest appearance at her dead handler’s funeral.

Briggs’ needlessly defensive everyman personality holds “Dog” back from being as good as its high-concept premise. Thankfully, Tatum, who co-directed the movie with screenwriter and producer Reid Carolin (“Magic Mike XXL”), mostly gets by on-screen charisma alone, since he and his collaborators give his character ample time and room to pal around with various personalities throughout this sometimes cute buddy comedy.

When we first meet Briggs, he’s trying to convince an uncaring bureaucrat to restore him to active duty. Tatum, in character, wipes garbage from his hands onto the side of a fast food chain dumpster as he politely but firmly explains to a voice on the phone that he knows that he’s sustained a major brain injury, and therefore must get approval from a senior officer. The voice doesn’t budge though, so Briggs must convince somebody with more influence to let him continue serving his country abroad.

He soon does, but only in exchange for a thankless task: Briggs must schlep Lulu, a muzzled and socially maladjusted Belgian Malinois, out to the funeral of Riley Rodriguez (Eric Urbiztondo), Briggs’ commanding officer.

The canned shenanigans that then ensue can be pretty tedious, as when Briggs experiences a moment of destabilizing ringing in his ears at a gun range while, unbeknownst to him, Lulu breaks free of her crate and rips up the seats in Briggs’s 1984 Ford Bronco. Or when Lulu interrupts Briggs as he tries to mack on a pair of spacey tantric sex therapists (Emmy Raver-Lampman and Nicole Laliberté) — of course they’re from Portland, Oregon — by barking up a storm while a self-righteous passerby (Timothy Eulich) tries to smash the car’s windows with a brick in order to free the distressed doggo from Briggs’s truck.

There are also a few other obnoxious scenes that foreground Briggs and maybe the filmmakers’ low opinion of anybody who the movie considers to be either dishonest and/or pretentious, especially anybody who’s not identified as a fellow soldier. An unplanned backwoods detour leads Briggs to the greenhouse of Gus and Tamara (WWE wrestler Kevin Nash and Tony-winner Jane Adams), a couple of pot farmers who drug and zip-tie Briggs to a chair and then give him a comically inaccurate psychic reading. Tamara also removes a strand of barbed wire from one of Lulu’s paws, which at least dispenses with one load-bearing plot contrivance. Still, this episode’s only really charming when Briggs and Gus are bonding over a shoulder massage, edible lollipops and apologetic banter. The scene’s set-up may be weak, but Nash and Tatum’s bro-y chemistry more than compensates.

Likewise, the best character-driven moments in “Dog” show Briggs hanging with other characters who already get and appreciate where he and Lulu come from. A brief establishing scene at a bar-side wake for Riley brings out the best in Tatum’s character since we see how, even here, Briggs feels both energized and a little inadequate when surrounded by uniformed soldiers. Tatum also shares some great on-screen chemistry with Ethan Suplee as Noah, a chummy ex-army dog trainer who shares some beers with Briggs and shows him how to get closer with Lulu.

This subplot unfortunately leads to an underwhelming tangent about a burglar who steals Briggs’ medication but who actually turns out to be a homeless vet. The sanctimonious capper to that narrative episode only makes its didactic message — “Count your blessings, kids, ‘cause you, too, could end up living in a tent down by the river!” — that much more groan-worthy.

Worse still: the conclusion to an unfortunate digression involving Dr. Junaid Al-Farid (Junes Zahdi), a Muslim doctor whom Lulu attacks after she smells Dr. Al-Farid from across a luxury hotel lobby. That’s just how Lulu’s been trained to behave, she’s not really a bad dog, as Briggs protests when he and Lulu are apprehended by uncaring cops. This apology says a lot more about Briggs’ creators than it does about Tatum’s character.

Both the movie’s leisurely pace and its picturesque cinematography (by Newton Thomas Sigel, “Cherry”) bring out the best in Tatum as an on-screen presence. He excels at reassuring his co-stars, especially when he pouts and/or flirts at them as Briggs tries to make it to Arizona without ditching his canine companion. Briggs doesn’t really have much of an emotional arc, nor does Tatum have much of an on-screen rapport with the three canines that play Lulu. But the conceptual set-up of most scenes will probably either sell you or turn you off from “Dog.” The rest of your enjoyment depends on how badly you want to adopt another underdog.

“Dog” opens Friday in U.S. theaters.