Predictable, crowd-pleasing animal drama Dog won't be winning best in show

Dog: Channing Tatum as Briggs and Lulu the Belgian Malinois
Dog: Channing Tatum as Briggs and Lulu the Belgian Malinois

DOG (12A, 101 mins) Drama/Comedy. Channing Tatum, Jane Adams, Kevin Nash, Luke Forbes, Q'orianka Kilcher, Eric Urbiztondo. Director: Reid Carolin, Channing Tatum.

Released: February 18

FOR the past five years, Channing Tatum has traded leading man duties on the big screen for supporting roles and cameos while he amicably separated from wife Jenna Dewan, launched the Magic Mike Live stage show and published his first children's book, The One And Only Sparkella, dedicated to his young daughter Everly.

His comeback was supposed to be a Gambit spin-off film in the X-Men universe, which he had been developing for years with long-time producing partner Reid Carolin.

Unfortunately, Disney's high-profile acquisition of 20th Century Fox snuffed out that pipe dream.

Instead, the hiatus ends with Dog, a mismatched buddy drama-comedy, which marks Tatum's directorial debut alongside Carolin, who co-wrote the screenplay with Brett Rodriguez.

It is a curious shaggy dog story that addresses the heavy price of patriotism for American service personnel on two and four legs, punctuated by gently humorous interludes including a close encounter with a psychic couple (Jane Adams, Kevin Nash) and a ham-fisted attempt to pose as a blind war veteran and his support animal.

Tone and pacing can jar. One minute, Tatum is playfully soaping his companion in a bathtub, the next he is twitching helplessly on the floor from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) sustained in the line of duty.

In slang terms, a 'dog' is an unmitigated disaster or something of little value. Tatum and Reid's Dog certainly isn't that mangy – a predictable, crowd-pleasing narrative arc almost leaves a lump in the throat – but it won't be winning any best in show rosettes.

Former US Army Ranger Briggs (Tatum) proudly served in the 75th Ranger Regiment out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington until a TBI permanently side-lined him from active service.

Separated from his three-year-old daughter Sam and her mother (Q'orianka Kilcher), Briggs suffers occasional blurred vision and seizures in addition to the invisible psychological wounds from tours of duty in the Middle East.

Miraculously, he is granted a medical certificate for a position as a private security guard but his application demands a personal recommendation from a commanding officer.

Briggs' superior, Jones (Luke Forbes), agrees to support the application if the veteran successfully escorts a Belgian Malinois military working dog named Lulu to Nogales, Arizona to attend the funeral of her handler, Sergeant Riley Rodriguez (Eric Urbiztondo).

"You stick your neck out for the battalion, I stick my neck out for you," barks Jones.

A race against the clock down the Pacific Coast in a 1984 Ford Bronco pits Briggs against Lulu, who is just as traumatised by her experiences behind enemy lines and is muzzled for everyone's protection.

Dog collars the sympathetic double-act of Tatum and his four-legged co-star, who trade snarls and glares until mutual animosity inevitably softens.

Whenever the script goes off leash for a fanciful diversion, running time drags: a flirtation with two tantra mistresses is superfluous.

Tatum and Reid's debut is no dog's dinner – moderately meaty with a syrupy after-taste.