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You’re such a good little nugget.

Dog
(2022)

(SPOILERS) Dog probably wouldn’t have unduly attracted my attention – throw a random rock and you’re likely to hit one of a multiplicity of heart-warming, life-affirming dog movies – but for the claim that it’s guilty of anti-woke sentiments. Which, well… one might construe it that way. It’s evidently not expressly sympathetic to woke, as its protagonist – and, one might reasonably assume, co-director and star Channing Tatum – has a very matter-of-fact, no-bullshit attitude that would be anathema to the average wokester. At the same time, announcing it as some kind of creed would be gross overstatement. It is, basically just another of a multiplicity of heart-warming, life-affirming dog movies.

And to his credit, Tatum, working from co-director and Magic Mike associate Reid Carolin’s screenplay, has refuted any partisan angling (“I’m not political… The news and political stuff, I think we’ve got to a place of real miscommunication and misunderstanding”). Even beyond that, once you get into the territory of military vs (for example, wokesters), it’s easy to reduce a narrative to them-and-us Hegelian point scoring and miss the broader picture. I don’t think Tatum and Carolin do that. Indeed, aside from the occasional scolds batted his way, Dog explicitly avoids interrogating the rights or wrongs of current and recent US military endeavours while addressing their fall out on those involved. Including their pets.

The are other reasons to suppose the idea that Tatum may be taking shots at prescribed wokeness may be premature. He is, after all, a co-star in the 100% synthetic The Lost City, which carries the same unreal sheen we’ve seen of late in the likes of Red Notice and Death on the Nile. Elsewhere, on the conspirasphere front, it’s been suggested his Hollywood royalty co-stars (both among Hollywood’s elite inverted) are about as present and correct as Guantanamo Hanks in his last few pictures; The Lost City’s Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock are clones or AIs, and the latter is never to be seen in public again (at least, the real version). Neither have looked very tangible for a while now, of course, with Bullock boasting a photshop sheen and Pitt’s features being overtly adjusted as far back as Allied. The director of which is currently rustling up the next creepy Guantanamo Hanks movie (he was also responsible for youthful elixir movie Death Becomes Her). Whether or not Janine’s reading is remotely accurate – she also suggests the Tatum we’re seeing there could be a fake and that the real deal is facing justice, and one would have to assume the imminent Pitt-Bullock starrer Bullet Train is similarly composed, and, er… imminent Pitt-starrer Babylon – the rise in plastic pictures is undeniable. Besides, I’m all for taking a break from the dystopian programming and considering more rewarding potentialities, even if Janine's track record is variable to say the least; witness her recent suggestion that Rod bleedin' Hull is still alive in a secret location (Rod fell off his bloody roof in 1999).

AI/clone Tatum’s medically retired Army Ranger Jackson Briggs is stuck serving fast food to rude customers (“Yo, are you high? I said peppers, not cucumbers”), and unsuccessfully attempting to secure a job from a private contractor (in “diplomatic security”). Admittedly, he has a rather picturesque log cabin in the woods, but he wants what he knows, and just as you’re assuming his captain, in refusing to approve his brain-damaged ass for service, has laudable standards, he agrees: if Briggs will take a military dog cross country to Arizona to attend his handler’s funeral (charitably, I’d like to think the captain knew, Yoda-like, the experience would change Briggs, rather than dismissing him simply as cheap and opportunistic). After which, she will be put down.

Inevitably, Lulu and Briggs bond through trials and tribulations, their shared conditions providing common ground (“She’s got every combat trigger in the book”). Along the way, the picture raises the spectre of armed forces experiences being innately antithetical to both physical and mental health – the dog’s former handler committed suicide, driving his car into a tree – and it’s easy to see the disposable attitude to Lulu transposed to the human complement. It’s also emphasised that Briggs is far from a model of rectitude in terms of ingrained attitudes and outlook.

The rebuffs a flirtatious Briggs receives ensue from an express desire to go out and get laid; he’s not quite an unreconstituted jock-bro, but he’s in that sphere – and any observations on the global paradigm have to be balanced against that imperative (hence waffling about saving ducks from black goo, not that black goo, to a prospective conquest). There’s nothing woke per se about being dubious of military deployment at the behest of unsavoury interests (a pawn for big oil). On the other hand, Briggs being outright labelled a toxic male is woke to the max (“It’s just a little hard for me to get behind the toxic masculinity, you know”).

Briggs’ horn-dog momentum also leads to an encounter with two women – who clearly aren’t wokesters – keen to do some heavy-duty chakra clearing. However, this in turn results in his altercation with an “animal rights activist” – or concerned citizen – yelling “Animals are people too!” and accusing Briggs of being a redneck asshole for leaving his dog in the back of his car (this being while he attempts to get some hot chakra action). This has also been cited as an example of anti-woke sentiment, but really, it’s weak sauce, if that’s the ammunition. The guy is evidently a straight-up moron, as no one genuinely believing animals are people would hurl a brick through a window endangering said person. Elsewhere, the Muslim guy Lulu attacks (is trained to attack on the basis of apparel, it seems) is expressly shown to be an extremely reasonable guy who doesn’t wish to press charges, so one might suggest the picture itself is forwarding the very positions it’s accused of reacting against.

Briggs also encounters several military types who are less than stunning examples of the services, from the sentry at the base gate (“Think about it. What are the odds I’m ISIS?”) to Bill Burr’s cop, all conciliatory until Briggs registers the wrong tone in recognition of his army background (“Oh, you were an MP?”) The flipside to this is Ethan Suplee’s master philosopher former colleague, now spewing embarrassing nuggets of self-help (“When he stopped struggling, I realised I could stop struggling too” of his own service dog; “At the end of the day, the hardest thing is knocking on a friend’s door”; and suggesting moderation at the idea the homeless person Briggs encounters wasn’t ex-forces: “You never know in places like that who served”).

Dog is fairly rudimentary stuff, then, as are most of the attempts at comedy: Briggs not once but twice encounters hippy types who confound him rather (but if he joins in doubt with Kevin Nash’s pot grower over the latter’s wife successfully channelling Lulu’s feelings and intentions, it turns out she does appear to like a mattress, the Indian food less so). This couple are shown to be flaky but genuine and also living off-grid, which might be seen as bucking the prevailing trend.

But rather than a woke take down, basic decency and understanding appear to be the priority; that much is announced at the fast-food place at the outset. Dog offers an Eastwood-esque road trip of gentle growth, basically. Imagine The Mule but Channing is forty years younger and doesn’t pleasure a couple of eager prostitutes who never had it so good. This basic template is common, hence Pig and its more subdued, incremental learning curve (if less upbeat and more marginal for Pig). If an emphasis on honest communication and understanding, per Tatum’s soundbite, makes Dog anti-woke, it’s guilty as charged. Otherwise, this is simply a throwback to the kind of dramedy you wouldn’t have given a second thought to a couple of decades ago.


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