TUCSON, Ariz. — "Dog" bucks the trend of the umpteen sappy canine-based dramedies, such as "A Dog's Purpose," "A Dog's Way Home" and "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by avoiding typical mawkishness in favor of a harder edge.
The film is a pure passion project by Channing Tatum, who not only stars but steps into the director's chair for the first time, working with Reid Carolin to deliver a heartfelt and funny road trip film that avoids low-hanging fruit in favor of some more difficult material.
There's nothing new about the formula applied here: A hard-edged man gradually bonds with a rowdy dog, slowly forging a life-changing friendship.
Tatum plays Briggs, a hard-drinking, rules-bending U.S. Army Ranger tasked with what he sees as a miserable assignment: Escorting Lulu, a military working dog from Washington D.C. to Nogales, Ariz. in order to appear at her handler's funeral.
At first, Briggs sees Lulu as a burden.
He muzzles her, keeps her kenneled during long drives and has little more to say to her other than dissatisfied grunts.
Briggs has a way of making things more difficult than they need to be, and Lulu gets ensnared into his womanizing, self-centered lifestyle.
Luckily for Briggs, Lulu has a similar single-minded ability to bust out of bonds.
A scene in which Lulu comes to Briggs' rescue had a resolution that caught me off-guard.
As a travelogue, the film focuses on the deceptive beauty of the long, lonely roads and surprises that perk up from beyond the horizon.
That's not to say things get dull.
Both Briggs and Lulu have a knack for livening up any mundane situation.
The key to "Dog" is that the humor flows naturally from the situations rather than being centered around comedic antics.
In what amounts to a one-man show, Tatum shows off his sensitive side to pair with his action and dance flick background.
"Dog" is a winning story because it takes the tougher route rather than settling for the easy way. It's the comfortable leader of the recent cinematic dog pack.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.
This story was first reported by Phil Villarreal at KGUNin Tucson, Arizona.