A whistle only dog lovers can hear.
Released in a month that is traditionally a dumping ground for late-summer cinematic pabulum, the ensemble dramedy Dog Days is a whistle only dog lovers can hear. Those indisposed to the canine persuasion should stop reading now. Even if you are still reading, be warned that all but the most sentimental pet owners may be immune to a manipulative, tear-jerking movie whose four-legged cast outshines most of their human counterparts. That said, those prone to hand out belly rubs whenever their big-eyed, tail-wagging companions demand them will probably find the movie entertaining on a purely instinctual level.
The movie follows various strangers in Los Angeles whose lives intertwine thanks to their dogs. A middle-aged couple (Eva Longoria and Rob Corddry) are planning to adopt a child; a widower (Ron Cephas Jones) is irritated by a bratty pizza delivery boy (Finn Wolfhard); the host of a morning television show (Nina Dobrev) finds that her boyfriend has been cheating on her, and to cope, takes her dog to therapy; when his pregnant sister brings a new baby home, a struggling musician (Adam Pally) takes in her flatulent labradoodle, even though his apartment building bans pets.
Yeah, tl;dr—unless you’re a “Stranger Things” or High School Musical completist, it’s not the people that will lure audiences to the multiplex, it’s the animals. Be assured that they are adorable, whether it’s a stray chihuahua trying to find a home, a pug running away from hers or a sad mutt watching his owner on tv.
Although Dog Days has rom-com ambitions (call it Much Ado About Rover) and has the sprawl (if not the locusts) of Magnolia, the movie is more endearing when it becomes a canine variation on a very different LA story: Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. (Don’t expect a dance-off with breakdancing dogs; like the youth center in that unfairly-maligned sequel, the animal shelter that’s the hub of this movie’s meet-cute web loses its lease.) And the most convincing relationship in this shaggy tale is the unlikely friendship between the widower and the pizza boy; Cephas Jones develops a kind of avuncular chemistry with Wolfhard when the boy helps the widower try to find his runaway dog.
Yet despite the reliably compelling mutts, it’s the humans who go astray. There is little chemistry between the prospective couples, though that’s partly by design in the case of Jon Bass, who’s sympathetic as an animal shelter owner who’s sweet on Vanessa Hudgens’ character. Unfortunately, the usually dependable Cordrry looks thoroughly uncomfortable in his role, almost as if he and his career is being held hostage by a pack of sentient beasts. The script by Elissa Matsueda and Erica Oyama may be a little more than director Ken Marino (How to Be a Latin Lover) can chew, but the proceedings are pure Hallmark, down to the inspirational dog quotation from Gertrude Stein. I mean, how many movies will you see this summer in which the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” scores an emotional highlight?
There’s a more melancholy film in the bones of Dog Days, which observes a great deal of loneliness in its human characters, an alienation appeased (but also exacerbated) by their pets. A stronger cast, better directorial focus and a stricter training regimen might have made it rise above the stigma of its release date. Still, for an August animal movie, it’s not a total bow-wow.