Channing Tatum recently took a few years off from starring in movies, sticking only to voice roles and the occasional cameo, like the one in last year’s Free Guy. But now he’s back, with a movie in which he not only stars but also co-directed, along with his longtime producing partner Reid Carolin.
That movie, Dog, opened Friday, and it has Tatum very much breaking that old actors’ maxim about never acting opposite an animal.
The film, not based on any particular true story or source material, but very much inspired by the leading man’s love of dogs, stars Tatum as Briggs, an Army Ranger and combat veteran who has suffered a traumatic brain injury. Briggs is given the assignment to accompany Lulu, a particularly rambunctious Belgian Malinois military working dog, from a base in Washington State to Arizona, for the funeral of the dog’s former handler. Far from a dog person, Briggs takes the assignment so he can be recommended for a job he really wants but can’t get otherwise.
So it’s a road movie, one with more than a touch of comedy, while also shining the spotlight on such subjects as the scourges of PTSD and veteran suicide, as well as the special bond between soldiers and their dogs. The trajectory of the trip, meanwhile, sends this military man on a quest through West Coast, blue-state America, adding another layer of culture clash.
“This is not his dog, and he’s a little bit put out that he even has to do this to get the recommendation that he feels like he’s overly qualified for, for all the experience that he’s put in,” Tatum said, during an online press conference for the film in early February. “But he has to do it, it’s his only real option, and any good guy who’s going on a… road trip, wants it to be fun.”
“But to his chagrin, Lulu is becoming an issue at every step of the way.”
Tatum said he was inspired to make the movie by his relationship with a past dog, also named Lulu, who has since passed away.
“Our life was an adventure,” Tatum said of his Lulu. “It was joyful and funny and hilarious and crazy at times, and that was the story we wanted to tell.”
What was it like playing double-duty on the film, for Tatum?
“I really enjoyed the setting up more than the experience of directing,” he said. “I think I was directing the dog more, and Reid was directing me.”
Lulu was played, in fact, by three different dogs for the shoot.
“I’ve worked on other movies and had little moments with other animals,” Tatum added. “But other than horses — horses are generally amazing to work with — but dogs and cats, these are the only dogs I’ll work with.”
“I hope they have a great time at the movie theater,” Carolin, the other co-director, said in the press conference. “I hope people laugh a lot, and I hope they stay engaged with the film. And they’re gonna take from it whatever they take from it. But I hope they get a window into a world of people and animals that we rarely ever get to see, this community of special operations soldiers, canine handlers specifically, and their dogs, really gifted us incredible access with the culture.”
Tatum and Carolin had worked together on an HBO documentary called War Dogs: A Soldier’s Best Friend. Tatum had also co-starred in a 2008 film called Stop-Loss, about struggling soldiers home from Iraq who faced further deployments.
“The dog became more than just a dog,” Carolin said he heard from soldiers with whom he worked on the documentary. “It became a person, a soldier, a brother or a sister. It was not looked at as a dog inside that unit.”
“These dogs, they don’t stop,” Tatum said. “You only get to that level, most dogs wash out, they don’t make it. They don’t like water, or they don’t like climbing the helicopter, and they won’t run into the house and do the job. There’s infinite amount of things that can wash the dog out. But these dogs that make it, they are not to be trifled with. They are kind of superhuman, they can see in the dark, they can smell someone that they can’t see, they can follow scents that they can’t see or smell. And the soldiers admire it- they’re the hardest people in this unit.”
Also in the film, in one particularly memorable sequence, is Kevin Nash, known to pro wrestling fans as Big Daddy Cool, Diesel, but more recently as an actor; he co-starred with Tatum in the Magic Mike movies. Ethan Suplee, the Kevin Smith movie veteran who was also in The Wolf of Wall Street, co-stars as a fellow veteran, now sporting a muscled physique that rivals that of Tatum.
“I really loved the stuff with Kevin Nash,” Carolin said. “To see him get to be a comedian, and to bring out that side of him…”
“I can’t look at Kevin’s face without laughing,” Tatum added. “He’s just so funny.”
Dog opened in theaters on February 18.