“Dog Days,” an omnibus comedy about the unique ability of dogs to connect us to others and ourselves, is the kind of mildly amusing, pandering film that shows up in movie theaters at random times throughout the year when nothing else notable is playing and people are willing to watch just about anything. Yet it still achieves some moments of genuine sweetness. It’s a film about dogs, after all, our collective best friend.
Director Ken Marino works from a script by Elissa Matsueda and Erica Oyama that’s essentially mashed together bits of stories that wouldn’t sustain a whole film on their own. There’s the uptight morning news anchor, Elizabeth (Nina Dobrev), who warms to her new co-host, Jimmy (Tone Bell), when their pups bond. There’s the winsome barista, Tara (Vanessa Hudgens), caught in a love triangle with a hunky vet, Dr. Mike (Michael Cassidy), and an altruistic but nerdy dog rescue center owner, Garrett (Jon Bass). A stoner musician, Dax (Adam Pally), learns about responsibility when his sister (Jessica St. Clair) needs him to watch her pooch while she mothers her newborn twins.
In perhaps the most heartwarming subplot, Tyler (Finn Wolfhard) befriends a lonely older man (Ron Cephas Jones) who has lost his beloved pug, Mabel. The wayward pup ends up with the Chapman family (Eva Longoria and Rob Corddry), who are learning to live and love together with the new addition of adopted daughter Amelia (Elizabeth Phoenix Caro), and Mabel proves the necessary glue.
All these are wisps of tales, so they’re loosely stitched together – Tara and Dax live in the same apartment building; Dr. Mike is seemingly the only vet in town, and when the rescue center has a fundraiser for their new facility, all the dog lovers collide. But there’s no real twisty plotting magic at play. These are just the kinds of small world, city-living connections that occur organically.
The script for “Dog Days” gets off to a very rocky start, with some painfully outdated gender-based jokes. In fact, it opens on the repeated misgendering of dog therapist Danielle (Tig Notaro), which is played like a slapstick routine, and simply doesn’t land. The unfunny heteronormative jokes continue throughout the character introductions, relying on cheap gay panic laughs from jokes about men finding other men attractive.
The film rights itself only when it starts getting seriously weird, and Marino’s alt-comedy roots start to shine through. David Wain appears as a laconic clown, while John Gemberling, completely underused as a vet tech, gets his moment, belting out an unwarranted but heartfelt “Amazing Grace.” Veteran comedians like Pally, St. Clair and even Bass get some great ad libs and one-liners, which add texture to the otherwise bland and placid surface.
“Dog Days” is in some ways a very strange movie, in the way it straddles the worlds of weirdo comedy and family-friendly fare. But ultimately, it’s the pooches who steal the show, from the increasingly accessorized Chihuahua Gertrude, to best friends Sam and Brandy, and finally, to Mabel the pug, whose ability to mend just about any broken heart makes her quite the unique dog indeed. When these furry friends are able liven up the doldrums of “Dog Days,” it finally proves the film worthwhile.
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