In the realm of movies about cops and their canine partners, Muzzle falls somewhere between Turner & Hooch and K-9. It starts off strongly, bogs down in the middle, and is mostly terrible by the end. You can’t really even enjoy it as a story about a broken guy and an equally broken pooch helping each other, given that Dog did it so much better.

Jake Rosser (Aaron Eckhart) is a cop with PTSD and a bad attitude. When his K-9 partner Ace is killed during a shootout with drug dealers, he considers giving up. A police psychologist convinces him he needs more human interaction, so Jake begins dating his neighbor Mia (Penelope Mitchell). He decides to take on a new partner after meeting Socks, a violent dog who’s had titanium incisors implanted in his mouth by a previous owner. Socks is prepped for service by the department’s trainer, Leland (Stephen Lang). His first mission: helping a now-rogue Jake bring down the thugs who murdered Ace.

Early scenes in Muzzle show potential. There’s a gritty feel as the cop makes his way around run-down neighborhoods filled with graffiti, hookers, and disposed needles. Watching him start to form a bond with Socks is similarly promising, because we’re being set up to get two angry, unbalanced officers for the price of one. Eckhart is commanding in the lead role, effectively getting across Jake’s “screw it” attitude, while simultaneously making it clear that he wants to heal.

Director/co-writer John Stalberg, Jr. doesn’t know what story he’s ultimately telling, though. The movie tries to be multiple things all at once and ends up being insufficiently good at any of them. It’s a hard-edged action/revenge picture, a tender man-and-his-dog story, a half-baked romance, and a commentary on America’s fentanyl crisis, with a sprinkling of anti-China sentiment tossed in. None of these threads accomplish much since Stalberg fails to develop them beyond a surface level.

The plot becomes needlessly convoluted by the end. Right when the story should be reaching peak tension, we get a long conversation scene between Jake and another man (whose identity would be a spoiler) that’s a dull exposition dump. This is followed by Jake’s final confrontation with the bad guy, but I wasn’t entirely sure who that person was. Establishment of the villain is so lacking that it isn’t clear what the connection is.

On top of it all, Socks having titanium teeth is completely forgotten about until the last five minutes, when it’s hauled out for what’s intended to be a startling climax. Why introduce such an offbeat idea if you’re not going to do anything with it? Muzzle keeps tricking viewers into thinking it’s headed someplace cool, then proceeds to go around in circles instead.

out of four

Muzzle is unrated, but contains violence and adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.