Steven Weber as Marine Sergeant Terry Pulaski and Zeke as the title character in Duke.
Cut from the same pastel fabric as most Hallmark movies, Duke is a classic tearjerker-with-a-happy ending—made a whole lot better by a dog. Marine Sergeant Terry Pulaski (Steven Weber of “Wings” and “Brothers & Sisters”) plays an Afghan war veteran with serious physical and emotional injuries that drive him to leave his wife and young daughter. The bulk of the story focuses on his life ten years later, which finds him living in a trailer with Duke, a bright-eyed and endearing former stray, played by a talented, especially when pretending to be sick, 10-month-old Border Collie named Zeke. (Duke premieres Saturday, April 28, 8 p.m. ET/PT, 7 p.m. CT on Hallmark Movie Channel).
There is a lot that is predictable in this story, which is “inspired by true events,” but that didn’t stop me from sniveling my way through several tissues. I especially liked the scenes of Duke comforting Pulaski through severe bouts of PTSD, and I was moved by the attempt to portray Pulaski’s grief over Duke’s death (the rumors of which are greatly exaggerated) as deep, nuanced and lasting. In the end, I was a little embarrassed by how Pulaski seemed more enthusiastic to reunite with his canine family than with his human family—but even that had a ring of truth.
The film is part of Hallmark Channel’s Pet Project, launched in early April “to celebrate the joy and enrichment pets bring to our lives, while shining a spotlight on this country’s epidemic of pet homelessness and encouraging the public to adopt.” PetSmart Charities and American Humane Association are partners in this initiative. In addition to original movies, the Pet Project features pet-centric programming, including the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards; a microsite featuring videos, photos, pet care tips and pet-finder resources; and public service announcements voiced by Hallmark talent encouraging people to find their next pet through adoption—which is a feel-good message I can totally get behind.
Check out what Zeke’s fellow actors have to say in the video below.