One would like to think that “Dog Days” is intended as a parody of really bad ensemble rom coms, of the sort that Garry Marshall made in his later years. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s just an awful movie of its type, a limp comedy that shamelessly resorts to endless shots of dogs, babies and older kids staring at the camera to pluck at viewers’ heartstrings.
Each of the individual plot threads can be described as falling into mediocre sitcom territory. An ambitious TV personality who’s just found that her boyfriend is a cheat is forced to team up on her local morning show with a charming ex-football player; since his dog brings out the best in her depressed one, the owners inch toward romance, too. A pretty barista takes in a stray, but then must decide between two suitors—the handsome veterinarian who treats the emaciated pup by fitting it with a cute little helmet, and the goofy but lovable fellow who runs a rescue kennel for homeless canines. An elderly man loses his late wife’s dog, and is aided by his pizza-delivery kid to find it; since he’s a retired teacher, he also becomes the boy’s tutor. An anxious couple adopts a darling little girl, but their attempts to bond with her run into a brick wall until she falls in love with a stray pug and they take it into their home. A slacker would-be musician is compelled to dog-sit his sister’s large pet while she and her husband deal with their twin newborns; will he link up with the pretty neighbor who sees him sneaking the dog into their “no pets allowed” apartment building?
You can see well in advance where every one of these stories is headed, and in some cases the inevitable connections among them. But when they all come together in a big finale involving a money-raising concert to benefit that doggie shelter, the result is all the more depressingly obvious.
That isn’t to say there aren’t occasional bright moments along the way. Tig Notaro, for example, does an amusingly deadpan bit as an animal therapist the stressed-out anchorwoman interviews on her show and then goes to see as a client. And there are some nicely loose, likable performances. Tone Bell, for instance, is ingratiating as that ex-football star turned TV celebrity.
But for every pleasant turn, we’re irritated by several grating ones. Adam Pally is an utter bust as that slacker guitarist and Rob Corddry tries so hard to stifle his natural air of cynicism as the adoptive dad that he comes across stiff and boring. (He’s certainly not helped by the decision to have him wear vests that look a couple of sizes too small for him. Maybe he’s just having trouble breathing.) By contrast, Dobrev comes on way too strong as the TV anchorwoman, and Jon Bass and Michael Cassidy overplay the dog-kennel owner and hunky vet, respectively. So does Phoebe Neidhardt as a wacky weather reporter (to be fair, she’s hobbled by some of the worst material the script has to offer).
Most of the large cast falls between the two extremes, giving performances that are simply bland. But almost all are eventually faced with scenes that come close to being unplayable. Was it really necessary, for example, to include a twist involving some Alice B. Toklas-style brownies on which a dog gets stoned? Viewers should also be advised that one plot turn involves a dog’s death, milked for all its worth.
The movie is directed, with a degree of laxity that borders on the criminal, by actor Ken Marino, who adds insult to injury by doing a one-scene cameo as a potential new partner for our TV anchorwoman. In doing so he provides a not-so-sterling example to his cast on how to go completely over-the-top without being remotely funny. Technically the movie passes muster but no more, with glassy cinematography by Frank Barrera and predictably bouncy music by Craig Wedren. You have you give some credit to editor Brian Scofield for managing to keep all the narrative balls in the air, though the finished product could hardly be called seamless.
Inevitably people will note that “Dog Days” is being released in August, and so its title—and quality, or lack thereof—fit comfortably into the season. But even if it’s sweltering outside, this mangy mutt of a comedy will offer little respite, despite the air conditioning in the auditorium.