You know those Garry Marshall ensemble comedies like Mother’s Day and New Year’s Eve, where various strangers’ lives intersect around a particular theme? Dog Days is like that, only not terrible! Not great, either, but it’s sunny and tame and aimed at families, and at least the theme is dogs instead of something boring like mothers.
Here’s what we’re dealing with. Newly single Liz (Nina Dobrev), host of Wake Up L.A., clashes on the air with a guest, ex-NFL player Jimmy Johnston (Tone Bell), and the public reaction is so great that Jimmy is instantly hired as her co-host. Liz objects — but then again, her dog was depressed after the breakup and has rebounded since meeting Jimmy’s dog. (No, they don’t bring their dogs to the morning show. What kind of sense would that make?? They coincidentally run into each other on a dog beach.)
Meanwhile, a slacker musician named Dax (Adam Pally) must tend his sister (Jessica St. Clair) and her husband’s (Thomas Lennon) big shaggy dog while they recover from having twins. The experience teaches Dax a thing or two about responsibility, let me tell you. He lives in the same building as Tara (Vanessa Hudgens), a barista who has the hots for a veterinarian (Michael Cassidy) who works across the street from her coffeeshop and whose schlubby affiliated animal-rescue coordinator (Jon Bass) has the hots for Tara.
Also meanwhile, Rob Corddry and Eva Longoria have adopted a sweet but quiet little girl named Amelia (Elizabeth Phoenix Caro) who only starts to come out of her shell when they find a stray pug. Unbeknownst to them, however, the pug belongs to a lonely old man named Walter (Ron Cephas Jones), who misses his Mabel. A teenage delivery boy, Tyler (Finn Wolfhard), offers to help Walter search for Mabel when he’s not busy studying (he’s in school even though it’s summertime, just go with it), and as it happens, the very subject Tyler is struggling with — English literature — is the very subject Walter used to teach!
The story is garbage, obviously, full of shameless contrivances and rom-com tropes, and the movie in no way subverts them. All crises are resolved happily, no dogs die, everyone gets what they deserve. But a funny thing happened when Elissa Matsueda’s original screenplay was rewritten by Erica Oyama, veteran of absurdist television like Childrens Hospital and The Eric Andre Show: It got funny. Directed by familiar comic actor Ken Marino (who’s married to Oyama), the movie now has goofy throwaway lines, amusing peripheral characters (Tig Notaro as a deadpan dog psychologist, David Wain as a no-nonsense clown), and an air of general silliness.
And it does this without ever becoming a parody or stretching the PG rating. In fact, Marino and co. use the limitations to their advantage, mining comedy in one scene by having two characters talk about a pot-laced brownie in discreet terms because a child is listening. (You can picture that being the directive from the studio when they hired jokesters like Marino and Oyama: “Be as ‘edgy’ as you want, just pretend you’re doing it in front of your kids.”) If nothing else, Dog Days is proof that funny people can turn a bland formula into something watchable, even jaunty.