Late in Ken Marino’s Dog Days, a dog is taken to the vet after suffering a stroke and needs to be put down. After the pooch’s owner says his teary goodbyes over maudlin music cues and sits down to contemplate the loss of his best friend, the vet’s assistant, Ernie (John Gemberling), walks over, places his hand on the man’s shoulder and suddenly belts out the first verse of “Amazing Grace.” Would that such absurdist humor, at once unexpected and effective, were the default mode of Marino’s film. But aside from the occasional idiosyncratic comic beat, Dog Days remains committed to coloring within the lines of established tropes in the animal-centric family film.
Each of Dog Days‘s five loosely connected tales of people and their dogs takes place over the course of a single summer in L.A. and every one of them feels like a stripped-down version of a hackneyed made-for-TV drama. The film first introduces us to Elizabeth (Nina Dobrev), a newscaster who apparently needs to learn to just loosen up both on and off air—maybe even let a man, Jimmy (Tone Bell), help her out in both her personal and professional life. From there, more time-honored clichés are unveiled in steady progression: the lonely widow, Walter (Ron Cephas Jones), who forges a bond with the bratty young pizza delivery boy, Tyler (Finn Wolfhard); Dax (Adam Pally), the irresponsible stoner musician who needs the responsibility of a dog to teach him to grow up; and the kindly couple, Grace (Eva Longoria) and Kurt (Rob Corddry), searching for a way to connect with their recently adopted daughter.
And of course, what’s a banal comedy without a soft-spoken nerd tripping over himself to win the heart of his dream girl? Dog Days has that covered with Jon Bass’s awkward, stuttering Garrett, who struggles to put the moves on his favorite barista, Tara (Vanessa Hudgens). Only the occasional bit performance on the part of a character actor working in the film’s fringes, such as Lauren Lapkus’s Daisy turning the house of one of her dog-walking customers into a personal spa, gives the film a pulse. One might think the integration of dogs into these well-tread narratives would shake things up a bit, but aside from a few undeniably adorable reaction shots, the canines only amplify the relentlessly saccharine nature of every last story.