By Jim Slotek
First the good news. There are many stalwart performances by good dogs in Dog Days, the family-film/romantic-comedy connected-anthology that is, unfortunately, undermined by the weaker efforts of the Hollywood humans behind it.
Charlie, an adorable mutt-mix of retriever and other, hairier breeds, steals the show as a people-food obsessed lug who’s sent to live with an irresponsible musician named Dax (Adam Pally) after his sister has a baby, and, via aggressive affection and a brush with death from eating a hash-laced brownie.
Despite being forced to wear a ridiculous pink hat, Gertrude the Chihuahua maintains her dignity and pathos as a street dog that enters the life of a barista named Tara (Vanessa Hudgens) and becomes the hand of fate that introduces her to two possible men in her life – a vain veterinarian (Michael Cassidy) and the dorky owner of a dog rescue facility (Jon Bass).
TV-watching Sam (I’m going to say, mostly Norfolk Terrier) brings his morning show host mom Elizabeth (Nina Dobrev) into the same orbit as a handsome ex-football player named Jimmy (Tone Bell) and his rough-housing mixed-pit Brandy. Sam and Brandy’s chemistry is particularly fetching.
And Mabel the Pug simply does what pugs do when she finds herself lost from her aged, ailing owner Walter (Ron Cephas Jones) and taken in by a couple (Eva Longoria and Rob Corddry) who are desperate to get their adoptive daughter (Elizabeth Phoenix Caro) to open up emotionally.
As for the rest of Dog Days, it looks very much like a mash-up of a bunch of romantic comedy/family scripts that sat in a drawer because not one of them had enough heft to justify a movie. In style, it is very much like the Love American Style-inspired films that Garry Marshall made before his death in 2016 (New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day), which were not his best work, but sweet-hearted.
Dog Days works very hard to be sweet. It telegraphs the arcs of its relationships a mile away, but almost every character in the movie is benignly likable. Never mind that a much more archly-funny version of this movie, Dog Park, was made 20 years ago by Kid In The Hall turned director Bruce McCulloch.
On that score Dog Days does poorly by its funnier humans. Comedian Tig Notaro has a handful of dead-pan short appearances as a “dog psychiatrist” who is really analyzing the owners. Rob Corddry, of all people, has nothing funny to say. Only Thomas Lennon (Reno 9-11), of all the humourous humans in the cast, gets good lines (mostly at the expense of his post-partum-psychotic wife, Dax’s sister, played by Jessica St. Clair).
Dog Days moves along, mostly pleasantly and at its worst is a somewhat-forced good time (Charlie’s drug experience is a bit disconcerting, and readers should be warned there is a scene where an aged dog is put down in a vet’s office, a dramatization that’s particularly hard to take for anyone who’s had to go through that experience with their best friend).
Dog Days. Directed by Ken Marino. Starring Vanessa Hudgens, Nina Dobrev, Eva Longoria. Opens wide Friday, August 10.