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Seth Landman

National Dog Month: The 21 Best Movie Dogs Ever

reviews on the movie dog

Dogs are synonymous with companionship. That means dogs tend to make great characters in movies about that very topic. Throughout the history of movies — and, really, if we’re being honest, the history of storytelling in general — dogs have been important to the way we explore concepts like love, loyalty and friendship.

August is National Dog Month, so what better way to celebrate than with a roundup of some of the best, funniest, sweetest, bravest, clumsiest and smartest dogs to ever sniff around the silver screen? Your list may differ, but for our money, these are the dogs that most easily snuggled their way into our hearts over the years. 

Hooch in Turner & Hooch (1989)

reviews on the movie dog

Hooch, a gigantic French mastiff, really might be the greatest movie dog ever. Many of the movies on this list have dogs at their center, but Hooch gets a starring role in a buddy cop comedy alongside one of the best actors of his generation, Tom Hanks. 

The pair team up to solve a mystery after Hooch’s owner is murdered down at the docks one night. Turner reluctantly agrees to care for Hooch when the local veterinarian, Emily (Mare Winningham), insists that it’ll be good for Turner to care for a dog. They develop a sweet bond over the course of the movie. For what’s ostensibly a pretty silly comedy, the end of this movie is pretty darn emotional, and assures Hooch a place on the list of indelible movie dogs. 

Old Yeller in Old Yeller (1957)

reviews on the movie dog

Old Yeller is not the oldest movie on this list, but it’s probably the platonic ideal of a dog movie. The whole thing is designed to pull on the heart strings of dog lovers as much as possible. It all begins when Old Yeller shows up on the farm of Jim Coates and does some damage in a field. Jim’s older son, Travis, tries to drive Old Yeller off, but the younger Arliss wants to keep the dog around.

When Old Yeller saves Arliss from a bear attack, he wins over the family for good. It’s a cruel world though, and a rabies outbreak looms. Chances are you know where it goes from here, but Old Yeller is a classic; it’s been one of the go-to tearjerkers in cinema for over half a century now. 

Chance and Shadow in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)

reviews on the movie dog

Homeward Bound , although it features animals, is a pretty standard movie about a long journey home. Chance, Shadow and Sassy — two dogs and a cat, respectively — fear they’ve been abandoned at a ranch while their owners are temporarily out of town, and decide to travel home on their own to reunite with their family.

They suffer many hardships along the way, but really this is a story about a brash youngster (Chance) learning from an older and wiser companion (Shadow). There’s also terrific voicework by Michael J. Fox (Chance), Sally Field (Sassy) and screen legend Don Ameche (Shadow) in the second-to-last role of his nearly 60-year career. 

Buddy in Air Bud (1997) 

reviews on the movie dog

As a true blue hoops fan, I’ll admit I always figured Air Bud was a little beneath me. I finally got around to watching it — pretty much as a joke, really — over the course of the pandemic, and it turns out it’s a really charming little movie.

At the center of it is Buddy the golden retriever, who happens to be an absolute bucket , as the kids say. Buddy can score; Buddy can pass; Buddy is a lockdown perimeter defender with great help instincts. You think I’m kidding, but I’m really not. This movie is full of basketball wisdom, including a scene in which Coach Chaney (a totally dialed-in performance by the great Bill Cobbs) makes the team play without a ball so they can learn how to communicate better. Excellent stuff, as far as I’m concerned. 

Benji in Benji (1974)

reviews on the movie dog

Benji was such a popular movie dog that he spawned an entire film franchise between the 1974 original directed by Joe Camp and the 2018 Netflix original of the same name directed by Joe’s son, Brandon Camp. 

The original — a story of a transient dog looking for a home and foiling a group of literal kidnappers in the process — is really fun. Somehow, this little dog movie ended up crashing the top 10 in the box office for 1974. Plus, Benji is just incredibly cute. Add it all up, and there are certainly plenty of worse ways to spend the brief runtime of 84 minutes.

Skip in My Dog Skip (2000)

reviews on the movie dog

My Dog Skip is a movie dripping with nostalgia. It’s set in the 1940s and is the story of a man looking back on his childhood and the very special relationship he had with his dog. Really, it’s a story about the loneliness of growing up, especially as an only child. It features the first major performance from child actor Frankie Muniz, who became famous playing the title character in the show Malcolm in the Middle around the same time. 

The movie is based on a book of the same name — an autobiographical story about a man named Willie Morris. Through the use of an extended flashback, and alongside the relationship between Willie and Skip, we learn about life in Mississippi at the time, but we also experience issues of the time like racism and post-traumatic stress from war. 

Bruiser in Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003)

reviews on the movie dog

The original Legally Blonde is one of the funniest movies of the past 25 years, and that’s due in no small part to Bruiser, the hilarious little chihuahua who is Elle Woods’ (Reese Witherspoon) companion. Nevertheless, here we’re shouting out the sequel, because the sequel features Bruiser a little more prominently.

In it, Elle Woods ends up fighting for animal rights after learning that Bruiser’s mother is being used for testing by a cosmetics company. Eventually, she secures the release of Bruiser’s mother, and everything ends well for Bruiser, too. 

Frank the Pug in Men in Black II (2002)

reviews on the movie dog

Another dog who shows up in multiple films across a franchise is Frank the Pug from the Men in Black movies. Frank is, of course, an alien in disguise as a pug here on Earth in order to blend in. Which is hilarious, because he’s a speaking dog. 

Frank has only a brief role in the first Men in Black movie, but he really shines in MiB II . He ends up serving as J’s (Will Smith) partner, and gets to do fun gags like singing “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor while riding in the car with J on the way to a crime scene. Plus, it’s just always funny to see a little dog wearing a suit.

Brandy in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

reviews on the movie dog

Brandy might very well be the hero of Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Hollywood . The movie is a kind of historical fantasy that rewrites the events of the famous Manson Family murders of 1969. Brandy, a pit bull, is the incredibly well-trained dog of stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). 

Brandy gets her moment when she attacks Sadie on Cliff’s command during the film’s climax. The moment is really satisfying — the culmination of a sweet relationship between a dog and her master. It’s all part of a pretty harrowing display of violence, but there’s a kind of sweetness to this fantasy of a world where the people murdered by the Manson Family in 1969 get to live on. 

Baxter in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

reviews on the movie dog

Baxter is a little miracle of a dog in the hilarious 2004 comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy . We meet Baxter early on in the movie, when we get to hear about how he “ate a whole wheel of cheese” and get to see how he sleeps in the same pajamas as Ron. 

Later, in a bizarre case of road rage gone way too far, Baxter is “punted” off a bridge by an angry motorcyclist (Jack Black). That event leads to Ron Burgundy’s downfall, and he loses his job and slips into a depression. Of course, things get resolved when Ron manages to save the day in the bear pit at the San Diego Zoo, but even that is mostly due to Baxter, who shows up — having miraculously survived — and manages to communicate with the bears. On the spectrum of heroic acts by dogs on this list, Baxter’s exploits rank him near the top. 

Marley in Marley & Me (2008)

reviews on the movie dog

Another tearjerker about the relationship between a dog and a family, Marley & Me follows a dog throughout his entire life. We start when John (Owen Wilson) and Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) relocate to South Florida. They decide to get a dog in an attempt to see if they’re really ready to start a family, and they name him Marley after Bob Marley. 

From there, we follow Marley through his life with the family. He becomes indispensable in all kinds of ways. Of course, the family loves him, but his hijinx also becomes the subject of John’s successful newspaper column, which is the backbone of his career. As with all movies that follow a character over the course of an entire lifetime, it’s pretty devastating when we get to the end, but this movie will absolutely warm your heart before it wrecks you. 

Beethoven in Beethoven (1992)

reviews on the movie dog

Beethoven is another movie about a family and a dog, and it was so successful — it made nearly $150 million on a budget of less than $20 million — that it spawned seven feature film sequels and a brief animated television show. The original is the golden standard though, and adds in some pretty high stakes to the usual family movie formula.

Beethoven himself is a gigantic Saint Bernard, and the movie’s high stakes are that Beethoven’s veterinarian Dr. Varnick (Dean Jones) is actually involved in doing a bunch of evil experiments on dogs with large skulls. Beethoven’s family, the Newtons, end up saving the day, led by George (Charles Grodin) who overcomes his initial reluctance to Beethoven to finally fall in love with the dog.

Lassie in Lassie Come Home (1943)

reviews on the movie dog

Lassie Come Home is basically the prototype for many of the other films on this list. It’s about the love between a boy and his dog, it’s about the importance of dogs as emotional companions during difficult times, and it’s also an adventure movie about a dog who goes on a journey. Its DNA is everywhere in the history of movies about dogs. 

The basic plot is that a family has to sell their beloved dog, Lassie, to a rich Duke during the Great Depression in England. Lassie continually escapes to get back home, until finally the Duke moves to Scotland, but his granddaughter lets Lassie escape after realizing that the dog is miserable. Lassie braves a long journey to finally make it to her true home. 

Beyond this original film though, you may remember Lassie from the long-running TV series (1954–1973) or one of the countless other movies and books about the sweet Rough Collie. 

Winn-Dixie in Because of Winn-Dixie (2005)

reviews on the movie dog

Based on a children’s novel of the same name by Kate DiCamillo, this film by the great director Wayne Wang is a charming family story about a scruffy dog who’s named Winn-Dixie after the supermarket where he’s found. It features AnnaSophia Robb in her first film role as main character Opal Buloni. 

Opal and her preacher father (Jeff Daniels) move to a small town in Florida, and Opal claims Winn-Dixie at the supermarket in order to keep the dog from being sent to the pound. Through Winn-Dixie, Opal meets all kinds of people in town including a sweet old librarian (Eva Marie Saint), a recovering alcoholic (Cicely Tyson) and a shy ex-convict musician named Otis (Dave Matthews). In the end, it’s a sweet story about the way dogs bring people together.

Toto in The Wizard of Oz (1939)

reviews on the movie dog

Where to begin with Toto, Dorothy’s ( Judy Garland ) legendary companion in the classic Victor Fleming film The Wizard of Oz ? It’s impossible to think of Toto without conjuring visions of Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch of the West shrieking, “I’ll get you, my pretty! And your little dog, too!”

Besides being an amazing little companion, Toto has a key role in the film. He’s the one with the curiosity of spirit to pull back the curtain and reveal the fact that the Wizard is really just an ordinary person using tricks of machinery to project a huge, ghostly image of himself. Without Toto, maybe we’d still be cowering in fear; it’s an important reminder. 

All the Sled Dogs in Eight Below (2006)

reviews on the movie dog

Eight Below is a survival drama starring the late Paul Walker as a sled dog guide named Jerry who’s working at a research station in Antarctica. When a scientist needs help getting to a site to find a rare meteorite, Jerry has to take him in spite of dangerous weather conditions. Things go awry when the scientist breaks his leg; the humans are able to be evacuated, but the plane that’s supposed to return for the dogs can’t make it. 

From there, it becomes mostly a movie about dogs. They survive by taking care of each other. Wordlessly, we get to watch them do their thing, persevering in the face of incredibly difficult conditions. When the surviving dogs are reunited with Jerry at the end, it’s one of those moving moments only dogs can elicit in an audience.

Hachi in Hachiko: A Dog’s Story (2009)

reviews on the movie dog

This film is a remake of a 1987 Japanese film called Hachikō Monogatari. It’s also a retelling of a true story of a dog who would accompany his person to the train station every morning and be there to walk him home in the evening. 

The story is told in flashback by a young boy in school. It’s the story of his personal hero, his grandfather’s dog, Hachiko. When his grandfather (Richard Gere), a professor, suffers a fatal stroke in the classroom one day, the dog continues waiting for him day after day. In the end, the dog is the boy’s hero for teaching him the importance of loyalty, and of remembering the people (and animals) you love. 

Lucy in Wendy and Lucy (2008)

reviews on the movie dog

Wendy and Lucy is a quiet and devastating drama by the great independent director Kelly Reichardt ( First Cow ). Possibly the most heartbreaking movie on this list, it’s a story about a woman, Wendy (Michelle Williams), traveling to Alaska in the hopes of finding work. When her car breaks down in Portland, she’s stranded with her dog Lucy — she has no money and no place to go. 

Out of desperation, Wendy attempts to steal food from a grocery store, but she’s caught and arrested. When she’s finally released, she returns to find Lucy is gone. A security guard helps Wendy track Lucy down, and it turns out Lucy was taken to a pound and rehomed. Crushingly, Wendy has to leave Lucy there, but promises to return someday. 

The Art of Racing in the Rain (2019)

reviews on the movie dog

The Art of Racing in the Rain has the unique distinction of being a film told in flashback by a dog . Many of the movies on this list are flashbacks of people remembering the special relationships they had with their dogs, but this one is the reverse. 

Kevin Costner provides the voice of Enzo, the dog of a race car driver named Denny. At the beginning of the movie, a dying Enzo begins to tell us the story of his life, and we follow him through his life alongside Denny. Based on the 2008 Garth Stein novel of the same name, this 2019 movie — and its main character Enzo — immediately became a classic in the canon of movie dogs.

Verdell in As Good As It Gets (1997)

reviews on the movie dog

Not a lot of movies on this list got attention from the Academy Awards, but this one did. It was nominated for Best Picture, and its two stars, Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, won for Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively. 

But in many ways it’s the sweet little Brussels Griffon named Verdell who really steals the show. Nicholson plays a writer named Melvin Udall, notorious for being a jerk to basically everyone around him. When his artist neighbor, Simon (Greg Kinnear), is assaulted, Melvin is pressured by Simon’s agent to care for his dog, Verdell. 

There’s a love story going on in which Melvin becomes infatuated with Carol (Hunt), a waitress at his favorite restaurant. She’s the only person who can put up with Melvin, and eventually her influence makes him a better person. Really though, Melvin’s care for Verdell is the first hint we get that there’s good in Melvin, and that makes Verdell a central character as far as I’m concerned. 

Every Single Dog in Best in Show (2000)

reviews on the movie dog

We’ll wrap up by shouting out Christopher Guest’s comedic mockumentary masterpiece, Best in Show . The 2000 film follows a series of contestants in a prestigious dog show, and we learn that the strangeness of these humans doesn’t even begin to be matched by the strangeness of their dogs. 

Every dog in this movie is completely perfect. You can’t help but be cracked up at the truth of the old adage that people end up looking like their dogs. My favorite, however, is pictured above: Christopher Guest himself as Harlan Pepper, the bloodhound trainer, with his beautiful dog Hubert. Obviously, I love all dog movies to some degree, but this one is probably my favorite. 


reviews on the movie dog

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2022, Comedy, 1h 41m

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Dog 's dramatic breed is far from exotic, but solid narrative bones and well-trained work from co-director/star Channing Tatum make for a fetching viewing experience. Read critic reviews

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Dog is as heartwarming as you'd hope, but it also tells a sensitive story about the long road to healing after experiencing the horrors of war. Read audience reviews

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Dog: Official Clip - Playing With an Attack Dog photo 1

DOG is a buddy comedy that follows the misadventures of two former Army Rangers paired against their will on the road trip of a lifetime. Army Ranger Briggs (Channing Tatum) and Lulu (a Belgian Malinois dog) buckle into a 1984 Ford Bronco and race down the Pacific Coast in hopes of making it to a fellow soldier's funeral on time. Along the way, they'll drive each other completely crazy, break a small handful of laws, narrowly evade death, and learn to let down their guards in order to have a fighting chance of finding happiness.

Rating: PG-13

Genre: Comedy

Original Language: English

Director: Reid Carolin , Channing Tatum

Producer: Gregory Jacobs , Peter Kiernan , Brett Rodriguez , Channing Tatum

Writer: Reid Carolin , Brett Rodriguez

Release Date (Theaters): Feb 18, 2022  wide

Box Office (Gross USA): $61.8M

Runtime: 1h 41m

Distributor: United Artists Releasing

Sound Mix: Dolby Digital

Aspect Ratio: Scope (2.35:1)

Cast & Crew

Channing Tatum

Jackson Briggs

Q'orianka Kilcher

Ethan Suplee

Emmy Raver-Lampman

Nicole LaLiberte

Luke Forbes

Ranger Jones

Ronnie Gene Blevins

Homeless Vet

Aqueela Zoll

Patricia Isaac

Cayden Boyd

Amanda Booth

Trent Buxton

Jamaal Lewis

Mathew Trent Hunnicutt

Reid Carolin


Gregory Jacobs

Peter Kiernan

Brett Rodriguez

Betsy Danbury

Executive Producer

Newton Thomas Sigel


Leslie Jones

Film Editor

Thomas Newman

Original Music

Laurence Bennett

Production Design

Macie Vener

Art Director

Set Decoration

Avy Kaufman

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If he thought about it, Briggs ( Channing Tatum ) might believe that the injuries from his service as an Army Ranger have taken everything he had and everything he needed. But he does not think about it. Despite his doctor’s warnings that he has some permanent impairment, he's determined to get back into the Rangers. Service gives him structure, purpose, fellowship, and enough adrenaline to not have to think about the many things he doesn't want to think about, including how much more there is still to lose. 

Briggs needs sign-off from an officer to be readmitted to the Rangers, who call themselves “the Army's premier direct-action raid force.” He has been repeatedly turned down. Finally, an officer says he will authorize Briggs’ reinstatement if he will perform one task, delivering an Army dog to the funeral of a veteran who served with Briggs. The dog is Lulu, a sweet-faced Belgian Malinois who performed many brave rescue operations, but who now is so severely traumatized from being in a war zone that no one can go near her. She has sent three people to the emergency room and been deemed un-salvageable. Until the funeral, she is muzzled and on Prozac. After the funeral, she is scheduled to be put down. 

Briggs, who has said he would do anything to get back into the service, does not want to do this. “You’re asking me to take a dog on a plane to Arizona?” The officer responds, “I’m asking you to drive a Ranger to a funeral.” The dog is too unstable to fly; indeed, Briggs is warned not to let her near any person or animal. But if Briggs can deliver Lulu with no mistakes and no trouble, he can get the approval he needs.

Of course, there will be mistakes and there will be trouble on the road from Oregon to Arizona by way of Los Angeles. There will also be connections from the past, both in person and via an extensive, heartfelt, and very detailed notebook kept by Lulu’s Ranger handler. 

Tatum the actor responds exceptionally well to Tatum the co-director (along with co-screenwriter Reid Carolin , both directing a feature for the first time). In his previous films, Tatum has mostly relied on his natural all-American charm, a boy-we’d-like-to-have-next-door combination of confident strength and self-deprecating humor. We have seen him unhappy and under stress but almost always as a character who keeps those feelings hidden. Here we see his range, with more vulnerability than he has shown on screen before. Briggs tries his utmost to hide his struggle from everyone, including himself. But Tatum lets us see it, without consideration for movie star vanity.

Carolin and Tatum play it safe in some other choices, though, with too many sun flares and postcard-pretty shots of the beautiful western countryside and some on-the-nose song selections for the soundtrack. We do not need to hear Kenny Rogers singing “The Gambler” again; when it comes to that song, it is time to fold ‘em. One of the stops on the road trip is in Portland, and the tired jokes about too-twee Portlandia-ness and Briggs’ efforts to adapt in order to get laid wear thin fast. 

What we’re there to see is two wounded warriors, one human, one canine, heal each other, and that works well. There are some surprising detours along the way, with some characters more interesting than the crunchy Portlandians. The always-welcome Jane Adams brings her delicate sensibility to a character who could easily have been caricatured. Interactions with two other vets also benefit from thoughtful performances. 

Both Briggs and Lulu learn that the skills they relied on in the military might need to be un-learned, or at least kept in check. Lulu knocks down a man in a hotel lobby only because he is wearing Middle Eastern robes. Briggs learns that perhaps you don’t enter someone’s property the way you enter enemy territory, even if you think your dog might be there. They also learn that those skills can have some value in a civilian life, as long as Briggs and Lulu learn to think differently about what they are trying to accomplish with them.

“Dog” is uneven in tone and quality but shows promise in the way Tatum and Carolin approach the story with care and heart. It leaves us optimistic for the future ahead for the wounded warriors and for the people who told their story.

Now playing in theaters.

Nell Minow

Nell Minow is the Contributing Editor at RogerEbert.com.

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Film Credits

Dog movie poster

Rated PG-13 for language, thematic elements, drug content and some suggestive material.

101 minutes

Channing Tatum as Briggs

Jane Adams as Tamara

Kevin Nash as Gus

Q'orianka Kilcher as Niki

Amanda Booth as Tiffany

Aqueela Zoll as Callan


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‘Dog’ Review: Man and Beast Hit the Road

In his directing debut, Channing Tatum plays an Army Ranger on a healing journey with a canine comrade.

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Channing Tatum and Lulu in “Dog,” which Tatum directed with Reid Carolin.

By A.O. Scott

Road comedies that pair an animal and a movie star are a minor genre unto themselves. The best examples, in my opinion, involve Clint Eastwood and an orangutan named Clyde , though the recent one with Eastwood and a rooster wasn’t bad. Channing Tatum is a different kind of screen presence — sweeter, chattier, bulkier — and in “Dog,” which he directed with Reid Carolin, he amiably shares the screen with (spoiler alert!) a dog.

She is a Belgian Malinois named Lulu (played by three talented canines), and she has served in the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. So has Tatum’s character, Jackson Briggs, a former Army Ranger living in a cabin in the Northwest. A history of brain injuries has kept him out of action, but he hopes that a good word from his commanding officer will give him a chance to go back overseas.

To make that happen, Jackson agrees to accompany Lulu from Fort Lewis, Wash., to Nogales, Ariz. The reason for the road trip is the funeral of her handler, a Ranger whose death in a car crash haunts Jackson and the film. While “Dog” is a man-beast buddy movie, it’s also preoccupied with grief, trauma and the challenges of post-combat life. Lulu and Jackson are both wounded warriors who must learn to trust each other and help each other heal.

Though much is made of Lulu’s ferociousness, the film’s humor is gentle and mostly unthreatening. She chews up the seats in Jackson’s already battered Ford Bronco, disrupts his potential threesome with a pair of Tantra practitioners in Portland and causes an unfortunate ruckus in a San Francisco hotel. Jackson has variously awkward, hostile and touching human encounters, notably with New Age cannabis growers and a resentful, racist police officer.

“Dog” is unabashedly sentimental. A movie about a dog and a soldier could hardly be otherwise. Luckily, Tatum’s self-deprecating charm and Carolin’s script keep the story on the tolerable side of maudlin. It’s also circumspect about Lulu and Jackson’s experiences of war, which is vaguely understood as something horrible but also glorious. Neither one is as complex as a real dog or a real man would be, which makes the movie an easy watch, but at the cost of some credibility. It’s friendly and eager to please, but it won’t quite hunt.

Dog Rated PG-13. More barking than biting. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. In theaters.

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Very good film, this movie was disappointing, this movie has really important messages, adjust rating to "r", decent movie for adults; too slow and crass for kids, very good story, clifford the big red.

Channing Tatum as Briggs in Dog.

Dog review – PTSD road trip with Channing Tatum and new best friend

Co-director Tatum charms as an ex-army ranger on a journey with his late buddy’s pet

C hanning Tatum, wrapped in a silk kimono, sucks on a weed lollipop. The scene is a perfect distillation of the actor’s appeal: goofy, flirtatious, manly but never macho. Those qualities are expertly drawn out in this charming comedy-drama, in which Tatum stars and co-directs with Magic Mike writer Reid Carolin.

Tatum’s Briggs, an ex-soldier, must drive his recently deceased army buddy’s angsty military dog, Lulu, from Washington to Arizona for her owner’s funeral. Both man and canine have PTSD, and the unlikely odd couple bare their teeth at one another, before their relationship softens. Their journey plays out like a classic romcom, complete with a fun riff on the “race to the airport” ending that has become a cliche of the genre.

What’s more surprising than watching Tatum share a bath with a Belgian malinois is the message nestled among the film’s sillier capers. In Portland, Briggs is subjected to smug liberals who make unfair assumptions about his “toxic masculinity” and complicity in “ecological warfare”. In San Francisco he is forced to confront his own prejudices when a drug addict – and former war veteran – breaks into his car. Tatum and Carolin cleverly use the road trip as a mechanism for a conversation about gentleness, connection and how to heal America’s political divides. The enemy’s bark is worse than its bite.

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‘Dog’ Review: Channing Tatum’s Got Some New Tricks, as Seen Co-Directing This Canine Buddy Movie

What could have been a basic man-and-dog road movie goes deeper than expected, exploring the damage military service does to two ex-Rangers — one a Purple Heart, the other a Belgian Malinois.

By Peter Debruge

Peter Debruge

Chief Film Critic


“Animals are people too!” a liberal yahoo in Portland yells before nearly getting his face eaten off by a Belgian Malinois named Lulu in “ Dog ,” a movie that not-so-secretly agrees with that sentiment, even as it has a laugh at the clueless animal lover’s expense.

Lulu, it turns out, is a more complicated character than the one her human co-star, Channing Tatum , gets to play — which explains why it took three Malinoises to embody her on screen: one to do most of the “acting” (Britta), one to lie down (Lana) and one to look as incorrigibly homicidal as possible, like she could rip out your throat or murder Al-Qaida, if necessary (that would be Zuza). But Tatum had the much tougher job, trying to disappear into the skin of a battle-scarred ex-U.S. Army Ranger tasked with transporting Lulu across the Western United States while co-directing the project (with screenwriter and longtime producing partner Reid Carolin ) at the same time.

Like John Travolta and Sylvester Stallone before him, Tatum is not an actor of particularly wide range, but he knows what his audience wants, and in “Dog,” he gives them more than they bargained for. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to those won over by “Magic Mike,” the popular 2012 meat parade that Tatum and Carolin hatched together, tapping directly into the movie star’s strengths: “Dog” is a lowbrow but by no means lazy crowd-pleaser, one where the fun that Tatum and company took in making it translates directly to the pleasure we take in watching.

On the surface, it looks like a familiar enough road movie: Back from Afghanistan, making submarine sandwiches for minimum wage somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, Jackson Briggs (Tatum) wants to redeploy, but a brain injury makes that impossible. Instead, he accepts the domestic assignment — a thankless errand, really — of transporting Lulu all the way to Arizona for the funeral of Jackson’s old Ranger buddy Riley Rodriguez (Eric Urbiztondo), who helped train her. But this is no easy cross-country trip, since both Briggs and Lulu are dealing with some pretty serious trauma from their time in the service, and it doesn’t take much to trigger either of them.

What results is closer to “First Blood” (the original Rambo movie) than “Turner and Hooch,” as Carolin’s script confronts the impact of PTSD on Army veterans, human and canine alike. It’s hardly a new subject, but it is an important one, and the team certainly could have bypassed it altogether and gone for a cuddlier approach. Instead, Tatum and Carolin use this easy-sell bonding exercise to focus on how those who serve the country are left to deal with the lingering wounds, both physical and psychological, on their own. As for the dogs who served alongside — now here’s the part no one wants to hear — sometimes the damage is so great, there’s no choice but to put them down.

Briggs knows when he collects Lulu that their mission is a performative one: Rodriguez was uniquely bonded to the animal, and now his family expects to see this legendary “hero dog” at his funeral. They don’t want to be reminded that Lulu, like their son/brother/beloved, came back broken. (Rodriguez drove himself into a tree at 120 mph, Briggs learns, slow to accept what that must mean.) And they certainly don’t want to learn that once Rodriguez is buried, the Army intends to euthanize the dog. That’s an even bigger bummer for audiences, since, like Briggs, we spend an hour and a half falling in love with her. But if you think that Tatum (who gave Lulu the same name as his own recently deceased pooch) plans to follow this horse all the way to the glue factory, you’ve underestimated his instincts as an entertainer.

That self-awareness is clear from the opening scene, in which Tatum awakens, sweaty and shirtless, on the floor of his cabin, panting like a dog. Sure, Briggs’ night terrors tell us something about the character, but mostly, they reassure us that Tatum — whose broad back, bulging pecs and discreetly flexed triceps are both his “instrument” and his selling point — hasn’t abandoned his hunk status, or else gotten too serious to deny audiences a show. Where once this industry was defined by great thespians, its top tier is now crowded with ex-soap stars and underwear models, in whose company Tatum is still right at home. (Funnily enough, Tatum’s cutesy talking-to-dogs voice sounds a lot like Mark Wahlberg’s singsongy talking-to-people voice.) Charisma comes easy to Tatum, and though Briggs is dealing with brain damage, there’s more going on upstairs than there was for Jenko in “21 Jump Street.”

The least convincing aspect of “Dog,” then, is the dog. Lulu is introduced like a deadly weapon with fur, and though her counterparts (Zuza mostly) rip the stuffing out of car seats and chase down a kaftan-wearing doctor in a San Francisco hotel, it’s hard to believe that this particular “Maligator” is an actual threat. Instead, we’re watching a trio of trained dogs play a trained dog, and they/she seem to be doing precisely what they’re told, even when said behavior catches Briggs by surprise — say, interrupting an “epic” threesome or bolting into the woods to locate an illegal pot farm.

Animals may not be people, but they do have a complex psychology, and it’s gratifying to see what could have been a one-dimensional buddy movie doing its best to convey the interior emotions of both parties. Turns out Tatum isn’t half bad behind the camera either, even if it’s tough to know how he and Carolin split the responsibility. They’re easy to underestimate, but between this and “Magic Mike,” the pair have proven awfully savvy with their pet projects.

Reviewed at Wilshire Screening Room, Los Angeles, Feb. 15, 2022. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 101 MIN.

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This article was published more than  1 year ago

Channing Tatum film looks like a cute canine road movie. It’s much better than that.

reviews on the movie dog

Trailers for the movie “Dog” — co-directed by and starring Channing Tatum as a retired Army Ranger named Riggs who takes a former K-9 comrade to her handler’s funeral — make it look like a fun road trip. Lulu, a Belgian Malinois, is a difficult dog: she chews the car seats, grabs snacks at every opportunity.

Cute guy, cute dog, cute movie. Right?

“Dog” turns out to be a deeply thoughtful, surprisingly resonant look at trauma and what stems from it. Lulu isn’t a bad dog — she’s broken. So is Riggs. They’re both no longer Rangers because they are no longer fit for duty, thanks to that all-too-common combination of traumatic brain injury and PTSD. Lulu can no longer work and it’s not safe to adopt her out, so after Rigg’s stop at his buddy’s funeral, he plans to drop Lulu off at a military base, where she’ll be put down. Once he does, he’ll be permitted to join a private military contractor, despite his own brokenness. So the two begin their odyssey from Oregon to Arizona, making several stops along the way. Though the story can be predictable and pat at times, there’s something more, something deeper behind the plot.

Riggs’s early frustration with Lulu is understandable. She used to be well-behaved; she had a job and did it well. Now she’s scared of everything, and she doesn’t know why. Riggs keeps asking her what went wrong. (She is, unsurprisingly, unresponsive). He wants to know how she lost her way, why she seems insistent on destroying herself and her legacy, strongly implying that if Lulu just wanted it enough, she could get better. Riggs even points out that euthanasia isn’t a “warrior’s death.”

Then he goes out and gets drunk, comes home, pops pills, and wakes up to another day where his ears won’t stop ringing and he doesn’t get to do what he’s trained to do — because that nearly killed him.

(A bit of context: Many canine veterans end up being euthanized, as their training and experiences can make them hard to adopt. Soldiers, obviously, aren’t. Yet on average, at least 16 veterans take their own lives every day .)

Military suicides are increasing; Theater of War is offering more than just a show of sympathy.

The connection between Lulu’s and Riggs’s PTSD is never laid on too thickly, but it’s there. And because it’s there, it gives the audience a new way to connect to someone who’s suffering. A highly trained combat veteran with rage issues and night terrors is scary, and it’s easy to look away. A dog? It’s a little harder to turn away from Lulu’s big brown eyes, and easier to see that underneath her muzzle is a desperately sad, scared creature who is worth the effort it takes to save.

Tatum’s varied background in film serves him well here. He’s as believable as a military man as he was in “ White House Down ,” as funny and as charming as he was in the “ 21 Jump Street ” movies. What’s more, his serious turn in “ Foxcatcher ” was no fluke: He can really act. Considering we spend the vast majority of the movie with him and Lulu in his truck, that’s a relief.

He’s harder to judge as a director, since he’s working as a team here (with Reid Carolin), but there are a number of shots that are truly lovely. Even the choice of landscape works on a deeper level; as Riggs and Lulu leave the lush woods of Oregon for the arid plains of Arizona, the scenery begins to look more and more like the desert areas of Afghanistan, where Riggs and Lulu met and served together.

While “Dog” is often funny, it’s not a comedy. Though it’s often sad, it’s not a tragedy either. Instead, it’s a sensitive, engaging, realistic look at what happens when a soldier’s toughest battle starts when they come home. It’s not the movie its marketing would have you believe it is. It’s much, much better.

PG-13. At area theaters. Contains strong language, mature thematic elements, drugs and some suggestive material. 101 minutes.


Based on a road trip taken by Tatum to California’s Big Sur with his dog — also named Lulu — shortly before she died from cancer, Dog is essentially Rain Man , with Dustin Hoffman replaced by a pooch. Tatum’s former army ranger Jackson Briggs is itching to get back to battle — he has a ‘Ride Of The Valkyries’ ring tone — but is stuck messing up orders in a sandwich shop, estranged from his wife Niki (Q'orianka Kilcher) and kid, all marinated in dark nights of the soul fuelled by booze and pills. Lulu is a military dog triggered by any sign of combat, who relaxes watching videos of her greatest maulings but also has the comic timing to scupper “the most epic threesome ever”.

Unusually for a film about man’s connection to animals, it’s the man who steals the show.

The episodic 1,500-mile road trip becomes a peg on which to hang a series of vignettes as Briggs attempts to deliver Lulu to the funeral of her former owner. As such, it’s a meandering tale that relies too heavily on Briggs’ monologuing to his canine charge, but Carolin and Brett Rodriguez’s screenplay finds some character quirks (Kevin Nash’s violent conscientious objector, Jane Adams’ cat psychic) and enjoyable set-pieces (Lulu uses her sniffer skills to track down Briggs’ stolen belongings) to keep it engaging. Sometimes this means there are some bumps in tone: a sequence where Briggs pretends to be blind while using Lulu as a guide dog belongs to a different, inferior movie. To Tatum and Carolin’s credit, it is never mawkish, but it is never gut-wrenching either. The screenplay also never tellingly joins the dots tracing Briggs’ emotional growth. It’s easier to chart the dog’s interior journey than the human’s.

Lulu is by turns Adam Driver intense and Joe Pesci volatile, with the occasional touch of sly Owen Wilson laid-back-ness — her refusal to get into a bath is charm personified. But, unusually for a film about man’s connection to animals, it’s the man who steals the show. Tatum’s unique blend of old-school magnetism and modern sensitivities keeps your attention, despite the thinness of the material, the actor as happy swanning around in a floral dressing gown or lip-synching ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ as he is with the macho military stuff. Fronting a film for the first time since 2017’s Logan Lucky , Tatum gives an old dog new tricks.


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