Puppy love

Little does she know that the dog is teaching her to sniff out dog treats.

Little does she know that the dog is teaching her to sniff out dog treats.

Rated 3.0

Megan Leavey, about the bond between a real-life Marine corporal (Kate Mara) and her bomb-sniffing canine partner, is an effective heart-tugger, well acted by Mara and an ensemble that includes Bradley Whitford and Edie Falco as Megan’s parents, Common as a tough gunnery sergeant, Matt Morales as a fellow Marine and Geraldine James as an ice-cold veterinarian who makes it her mission in life to see Megan’s dog Rex put down. It’s so watchable, and Mara’s performance in particular is so strong, that it seems almost churlish to suggest that the movie feels somehow incomplete.

It’s the script, I think, credited to Pamela Gray and Annie Mumolo & Tim Lovestedt. The “&” is Writers Guild shorthand for a collaboration, whereas “and” indicates a writer who contributed but didn’t work with the other two. And since Gray is credited first of the three, it appears that she did a major rewrite on a script by Mumolo and Lovestedt (both of whom have far fewer writing credits than Gray). This is all speculation, but it could explain why Megan Leavey feels so choppy, with so many story threads hinted at, then undeveloped or left hanging.

Take Falco’s character: She plays Megan’s mother Jackie, surely one of the least supportive mothers in movie history. She bitches at Megan for joining the Marines in the first place, haranguing her on the phone even as Megan’s bus pulls into boot camp. When Megan comes home from two tours in Iraq after nearly being killed by an IED, Mom barks at her, “You can’t come back into my house like some big war hero!” And finally, as Megan and Rex are honored for their service during a Yankees ballgame, there’s Mom in the stands beaming with pride. What the hell kind of character arc is that? How did Falco work it out for herself? Were scenes shot and cut out or never written in the first place? Either way, something’s missing.

Megan talks about her best friend who died of a drug overdose on a binge with her, going pill for pill. Is it survivor’s guilt that drove her into the Marines to straighten out her life? Maybe. The movie doesn’t say. It just raises the idea then drops it. This happens over and over again, and it’s frustrating to watch. Even Megan’s six-year campaign to adopt Rex is telescoped down until it feels like a few weeks, as Megan solicits petition signatures with the help of (apparently) friends we’ve never seen before and don’t see again.

All that said, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (like Mumolo and Lovestedt, relatively inexperienced) delivers the goods in the scenes of Megan and Rex in the field, sweeping roads, buildings and vehicles for explosives. It’s hard to muff surefire scenes like that.

Megan Leavey is pretty good, and Mara is really terrific. It’s just that there seems to have been a much better movie in Megan’s story, one that never even got off the drawing board.