'Dog Years': Film Review | Tribeca 2017
Burt Reynolds charmingly ambles his way through an exploitative indie comedy about an aging movie star.
There was a time when Vic Edwards (Burt Reynolds) was the toast of Tinseltown — handsome, talented and a top box-office attraction for five years running. If this precis sounds familiar, that's because it's very close to Reynolds' own. And at the start of the new indie comedy Dog Years, writer-director Adam Rifkin, who penned the film specifically for his star, furthers the connections between fiction and reality by using actual footage of Reynolds (introduced, through some ADR magic, as "Vic Edwards") on a David Frost-hosted interview show from the 1970s.
But no sooner have we basked in Vic/Burt's virile movie star aura than the film smash cuts to the present day, to an extreme close-up of the now aged Vic, sitting in a veterinarian waiting room with a pushing-20 canine that needs to be put down. It's an effective, though cruel and obvious transition, but Reynolds is clearly in on the cosmic joke. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, especially from those who live their lives in the public eye.
Celebs in decline have two choices: Fade into obscurity or do whatever it takes to recapture some of the old glory. So when the Tennessee-born Vic gets a lifetime career award invitation from the International Nashville Film Festival, it doesn't take much — beyond a little prodding from his friend Sonny (Chevy Chase, in a curmudgeonly cameo) — for him to accept the summons and chase that dimming spotlight. But here's the catch: The International Nashville Film Festival is actually a lower-than-low-rent operation run out of the back room of a bar by starstruck goofballs Doug (Clark Duke) and Shane (Ellar Coltrane). If the fact that Vic has to fly coach to Tennessee doesn't immediately clue him into the amateur operation, then the rusted car driven by his high-strung, tattooed chauffeur — Doug's sister Lil (Ariel Winter) — and his brokedown accommodations at an off-highway motel do.
What's left for a former megastar but to hit the bottle and hit the road. The majority of Dog Years sees Vic commandeering Lil and her car for a drive through old haunts. It's here that Rifkin's film reveals itself as its own low-rent simulation — of Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, with Reynolds in the Victor Sjöström role of a bitter old man grappling with his past, and Winter as the irritated traveling companion who eventually learns to love the gray-haired grouch.
There's a visit to Vic's childhood home, as well as to a football stadium where — again like Reynolds — our protagonist once played football, with an ultimately aborted hope of going pro. There are also several bizarre, cringeworthy interludes in which Rifkin inserts the elderly Reynolds into footage from Smokey and the Bandit and Deliverance so that he can chat with his younger self. And the less said about the sugary finale, in which Vic attempts to make amends with his Alzheimer's-afflicted first wife, the better.
Whatever pathos is generated comes from Reynolds' commitment to all the self-exploitation. His inimitable charm is still there beneath all the corporeal decrepitude on which Rifkin and company shamelessly linger.
Production company: Broken Twig Productions
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Ariel Winter, Clark Duke, Ellar Coltrane, Nikki Blonsky, Juston Street, Al-Jaleel Knox, Kathleen Nolan, Chevy Chase
Director-screenplay: Adam Rifkin
Producers: Neil Mandt, Gordon Whitener, Brian Cavallaro,
Executive producers: Brett Thomason, Bobbi Sue Luther, Jared Hoffman, Michael Mandt, Erik Kritzer, Gore Verbinski, Orian Williams, Mike Camello, Charlie Anderson, Bob Kaminski, Charlie Wear, Paul Lloyd, Micki Purcell, Beni Atoori, Jane Boisclair
Director of photography: Scott Winig
Production designer: Brett A. Snodgrass
Editor: Dan Flesher
Music: Austin Wintory
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Viewpoints)
Sales: XYZ Films