Dog, by Albert W. Vogt III

When Cameron told me he wanted to review Uncharted this past weekend, I initially thought I was getting the short end of the stick.  The only other movie I knew of that was premiering was Dog.  My experience with movies with animals and humans as co-stars is limited, and not good.  Usually, they have a wacky premise with predictable, slapstick jokes.  I like physical comedy as much as the next person, but people hurting themselves (or at the hands of their furry “friend”) gets quickly tiresome.  Meanwhile, all the trailers I saw for Uncharted made it look like it was going to be exciting.  Now having seen Dog, and reading Cameron’s review of Uncharted, I think I might have gotten the better deal after all.

With the opening credits of Dog, you get a montage of the title canine’s service as a war dog with his original handler, Sergeant Riley Rodriguez (Eric Urbiztondo).  This comes from a sort of scrap book containing details of the various missions the Belgian Malinois military working dog undertook, including being wounded in the line of duty.  Eventually, he and Sergeant Riley were transferred back to the states where their unit is stationed, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the state of Washington.  Unfortunately, Sergeant Riley could not heal from the horrors he suffered while fighting, and apparently purposely crashed his vehicle into a tree, resulting in his death.  He is not the only one suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  One of his fellow Army Rangers, Jackson Briggs (Channing Tatum), is having trouble adjusting to civilian life.  He is drinking heavily and working at a gas station sandwich shop, having been medically discharged due to severe brain injuries.  As the military as not keen on letting servicemen with such damage to continue serving, Briggs is seeking to join with a private security company in order to get back to some semblance of the only life he thinks he can lead.  What he is in need of is a medical clearance.  It is suggested that he has paid off private doctors for their approval.  The last thing he requiress is for his former commanding officer with the Rangers to sign-off on his request.  Though Briggs is turned down at first, the next day his former commanding officer agrees to do so if Briggs performs one last task.  It has been requested that Sergeant Riley’s dog be transported from the base in Washington to be present at his funeral in Arizona, and then be handed over to be euthanized.  This last part is due to the aggressiveness it has displayed since it had been wounded in combat.  Thinking this will be an easy mission to fulfill, Briggs immediately accepts.  Then he meets the dog.  It, too, is dealing PTSD, though Briggs takes it merely for a hyper-active pet.  Along the way, it ruins his chances of making love to two women at once, leads him to a marijuana farm where they are both captured (though eventually released), and ruins Briggs’ scam to get a free hotel stay in San Francisco.  When the staff of the luxury resort he chooses discovers he is not the blind veteran he claimed after the dog gets loose and attacks a person it takes for an Arab, Briggs is arrested and the dog put in a pound.  Dr. Al-Farid (Junes Zahdi) identiefies Briggs in a police line-up, but the Muslim doctor refuses to press charges.  Once they get back on the road, Briggs makes a couple more stops.  One of these is to a former comrade in arms, Noah (Ethan Suplee), whose pet dog is a sibling of the one Briggs is transporting.  Noah gives Briggs some tips for dealing with the dog’s anxiety.  Briggs also visits his ex-girlfriend Niki (Q’orianka Kilcher), where we find out that he has a daughter he rarely sees.  This all cuts down on the amount of time left over to make it to the funeral at the appointed hour, which becomes a problem when Briggs’ vehicle breaks down 100 miles from their destination.  Seeing no other alternative, they get out and start walking.  At one point, they take shelter during a thunder storm, which increases the dog’s skittish behavior.  Having had enough of the animal’s antics, Briggs starts yelling at the dog while it barks aggressively back at him.  It seems this is the blow-up they needed, for after cooling off separately for a bit, they form a new bond.  The next day, Briggs is literally carrying the dog on his shoulders as he runs the remaining distance to the cemetery.  After the service, he is able to get his car fixed and it is on to the nearby base where the dog is to be put down.  Yet, after seeing the distress the dog is in after being dropped off, Briggs turns around and retrieves it.  Doing so means giving up his chances of joining the security company he wanted to serve with, but in turn giving his new furry friend a good home.

As you can probably tell, there is a bit more going on in Dog than a zany animal flick.  It does try to be that for a while with the foiled threesome, the marijuana farm, and the hotel.  These are the least interesting parts of the movie, and I was particularly annoyed with the two women with which Briggs almost slept.  Their whole schtick is using sex to heal, employing the “power of sexual energy,” and I could not get over the ridiculousness of the situation.  The rest of the film deals with real healing, and at least those two yahoos were not portrayed in serious light.  It is the issues with which Briggs contends that give the movie a serious tone.  He does not acknowledge the problems he is experiencing, which he dulls with pills, until he is face-to-snout with a snarling Belgian Malinois.  He realizes that they are both damaged, and when he sees the fury with which the dog responds to being dropped off at the base, he knows that continued service is not the answer.  There are other answers suggested along the way.  When Briggs meets up with Noah, the latter mentions how he had tried to reach out to Sergeant Riley to help the dog’s original handler cope.  One of his possible remedies was talking to God.  Because an Army Ranger in this movie, and Hollywood by extension, sees organized religion as an anathema, Noah says that God can be anything.  While technically true since God is in everything, there are better ways of speaking to Our Creator than embodying Him in a shoe, which is an example put forward in the film.  Still, I will at least give them credit for the idea of a higher power.  As is one of the steps in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), getting in touch with God is a step in the recovery process.  That is true healing.

As a Catholic, I also appreciated seeing that Sergeant Riley is seemingly given a Catholic funeral towards the end of Dog. The whole service is one of the serious moments that save it from being the dumb animal movie I expected.  There are also some moments in it that are not appropriate for younger audiences, hence the PG-13 rating.  The previews suggest nothing about these parts, and going into it I was a bit confused as to why it would have this rating.  It is the right one, though.  Either way, it looks like Dog, and me, won the weekend.

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