While trying to chase both sentimentality and laughs, Ken Marino's ensemble canine comedy ends up barking up the wrong tree.
If you knew Ken Marino from his roles in cult comedy TV shows and movies (The State, Wet Hot American Summer, Party Down), you might go into his second film in the director’s seat, Dog Days, expecting an irreverent comedy poking fun at our culture’s obsession with our pets. You would, however, be wrong. Dog Days is a film that plays it as safe as possible, to the widest audience possible, with no qualms about reusing as many tropes as possible. Even the movie’s score sounded like it was taken from stock soundtracks of classic themes. The elevator pitch is apparent: People love dogs! People love romance! People love families! The parks in Los Angeles are beautiful! Mix ‘em together and make it a movie.
Cliché 1: Local LA anchorwoman Elisabeth (Nina Dobrev) finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her (his mistress brings her dog to the apartment during their tryst). She meets a new man in the form of her new cohost, ex-NFL player Jimmy (Tone Bell). First they fight! Then they fall in love! Then they have a misunderstanding and break up! Will they get back together again?
Cliché 2: Beautiful barista Tara (Vanessa Hudgens) is wasting her degree and pines after a handsome veterinarian, but will she notice the quirky nerd Garrett who runs the dog rescue shelter (Jon Bass).
Cliché 3: Dax (Adam Pally) is a lazy guy with no responsibilities who must watch over his sister’s dog while she and her husband parent newborn twins.
Cliché 5: A young pizza delivery guy (Finn Wolfhard) makes fun of an older widower’s (Ron Cephas Jones) dog and inadvertently causes it to run away. The boy makes good by helping the widower find his dog, and the two learn a lot from each other along the way.
All these storylines are connected by dogs in one form or another, like a mangy Magnolia. The dog the adoptive parents find are the widower’s dog who runs away; Dax and Tara live in the same building; the geeky guy who buys coffee from Tara owns the no-kill shelter. There is a lot going on, but the story is not particularly hard to follow (probably because the story arcs are so well-trodden). However, this cast of thousands means that it’s really hard to deliver any stakes. For example, when Dax is charged with taking care of his sister’s dog, he proclaims “my building doesn’t allow dogs.” But except for the fact that he must secret the dog in and out of his building in music equipment cases, we don’t see any threat of him being evicted impacting the story.
Both the romance subplots are too rushed for there to be any meaningful “will-they-or-won’t-they” interplay. In the Tara/Garrett plotline, we see the two of them grow close as Tara volunteers at the shelter and runs a fundraiser to find a new building. Out of nowhere, the vet decides he wants to date Tara and asks her to be his date to the fundraiser (that she is running?). Suddenly, a character who seemed like a nice guy turns into a total self-absorbed jerk, and it makes no sense. All so she can realize that Garrett is the right guy for her…. But that was a foregone conclusion – it would have been a stronger choice to let her realize that without the more attractive man being an asshole.
As for jokes, not very much of Dog Days’ sense of humor stands out, mostly relying on sophomoric potty humor(dogs stick their butts in your face and fart). The warmed-over, forgettable sitcom dialogue is nothing to wag your tail over either, though a few jokes might make you chuckle. The only joke that really stood out was one in which the dog Dax is watching eats Chekov’s Pot Brownie – Dax shows the dog Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, because that’s what he needs in his state. Dax then offers to show the dog Exit from Eden, which garnered more laughs from the screening audience than one would expect. It was this joke, and the running gag of the idea of a dog therapist, that makes one wish this movie skewered our obsessions with pets more.
Dog Days certainly doesn’t do enough to overcome the slog of its two-hour runtime. There is really no reason for it to be as long as it is, nor to have as many subplots as it does. The film would have been served better by cutting out two or more of the story arcs and allowing the other characters to be fleshed out more.
Despite the above criticisms, Dog Days has its audience – if you’re a cat person, it just may not be you. While there is no particularly standout performance, all the actors do a great job in their roles, and the chemistry between people and their dogs is believable (and only one scene where a dummy dog is used; the rest appear real). The cinematography is bright and cheerful, for what it’s worth and LA looks absolutely gorgeous in this movie.
While it’s hard to recommend this movie to anyone, it’s also hard to fault anyone for wanting to watch it. The world sucks, and sometimes we just want to look at cute dogs and see a happy ending. Also, they waited until the very end to pull out “Who Let the Dogs Out” and at least had the decency to make it a cover rather than the original.
Dog Days plays dead in theaters Wednesday, August 8th.