'Dog Days': Film Review

More mutt than pedigree.

Nina Dobrev and Vanessa Hudgens headline the ensemble cast of this comedy/drama about the intertwined lives of several Los Angeles residents and their canine companions.

Forget the glamorous leading actresses of cinema's golden age. When it comes to adoring close-ups of beautiful faces, nothing compares to canines. It's a lesson that Hollywood has taken to heart in recent years, perhaps owing to the fact that more than 60 million American households own a dog. Those dog lovers are clearly the target audience for the new comedy by Ken Marino (How to Be a Latin Lover) that delivers numerous intertwining stories of Los Angeles residents whose lives are affected by their pooches. Think of Dog Days as a Garry Marshall-style ensemble rom-com, only without the star wattage and with a lot more dogs.

Screenwriters Elissa Matsueda and Erica Oyama have perhaps gotten a bit too ambitious with this effort featuring more characters and storylines than it can comfortably handle. The romantic comedy aspects revolve around Elizabeth (Nina Dorbrev), the anchor of a morning television news show who strikes sparks with her charming new co-host Jimmy (Tone Bell), a former NFL star; and Tara (Vanessa Hudgens), a barista drawn to a hunky veterinarian, Dr. Mike (Michael Cassidy), even as Garrett (Jon Bass), the socially awkward owner of a dog rescue agency, desperately pines for her.

The most broadly comedic plotline involves harried new parents Ruth (Jessica St. Clair) and Greg (Thomas Lennon), who entrust their mischievous pet to Ruth's irresponsible musician brother Dax (Adam Pally). Poignancy infuses the stories of married couple Grace (Eva Longoria) and Kurt (Rob Corddry), who adopt a young girl (Elizabeth Caro) who remains emotionally shut down until they bring home a stray pug, and Walter (Ron Cephas Jones), the widowed owner of said pug, who desperately attempts to find it with the aid of a teenage pizza delivery boy (Finn Wolfhard) with whom he strikes up an unlikely friendship.

There's nothing remotely unpredictable about anything that occurs. It isn't hard to guess that Elizabeth and Jimmy will overcome their initial hostility and make sweet television together, that Dax will finally learn to face responsibility and care for something besides himself or that Tara will eventually realize that Dr. Mike is a self-centered jerk and that real love has been staring her right in the face in the form of the perpetually flustered Garrett. And if you think that the dog rescue shelter will have to close down forever after its landlord sells the building, you just haven't seen enough corny movies.

Nor is the humor particularly original. One painful bit, involving Tara mistakenly taking Dax for a kidnapper and shooting mace into his face, only shows that the toxic substance has essentially become a go-to cinematic sight gag. And it's hardly surprising that, after a casual mention of pot brownies, one of the dogs will wind up comedically stoned.

But for undemanding audiences not looking for too much substance in the summer's dog days, Dog Days should go down relatively easy. The large ensemble cast delivers generally winning performances despite their characters' stereotypical aspects: Dobrev and Hudgens are appealing as the romantic leads; Pally garners laughs with his man-child antics; Longoria and Corddry infuse their characters with genuine pathos; and Jones, as he brilliantly demonstrated on This Is Us, is a master at conveying pained dignity. Tig Notaro also makes an invaluable contribution with her hilariously deadpan turn as a dog therapist that ends every session with a demand for payment.

Of course, it's the animal performers that are the real stars here, and they don't disappoint. They're so adorable in their onscreen antics that dog rescue agencies should establish pop-ups in the theater lobbies to take advantage of susceptible audiences that've been inundated with doggy cutesiness for the better part of two hours. As is so often the case with dog-centered movies, this one relies far too heavily on close-ups of canine faces looking quizzically at the absurd human behavior going on around them. On the other hand, considering much of the silliness on display, their reactions seem perfectly astute.

Production company/distributor: LD Entertainment
Cast: Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Adam Pally, Eva Longoria, Rob Corddry, Tone Bell, Jon Bass, Michael Cassidy, Finn Wolfhard, Ron Cephas Jones
Director: Ken Marino
Screenwriters: Elissa Matsuda, Erica Oyama
Producers: Mickey Liddell, Pete Shilaimon, Jennifer Monroe
Executive producers: Alison Semenza King, Nicole Stojkovich, Scott Holroyd, Michael Glassman
Director of photography: Frank Barrerra
Production designer: Marcia Hinds
Editor: F. Brian Scofield
Composers: Craig Wedren, Matt Novack
Costume designer: Molly Grundman
Casting: Susie Ferris

Rated PG, 112 minutes