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Thursday, August 09, 2018

Dog Days

The smartest thing about Dog Days is that it lets the dogs be dogs.  They don't chime in on the action with voice overs on the soundtrack, and they don't act like tiny humans.  Yes, there is one dog who watches TV, but I've seen that kind of behavior before.  The movie is essentially designed to make the audience go 'awwwh" at a lot of cute dogs and their antics.  If that's all you want from the film, you'll love this.  But the movie also wants to be a romantic comedy that juggles multiple plots and characters, and at that, the film is on less certain footing.

This is a completely conventional movie about a bunch of intersecting storylines revolved around dog people living in L.A.  The movie is pleasant enough, as is the cast (both four-legged and human), but as far as these things go, it's pretty thin soup.  The screenplay by Elissa Matsueda and Erica Oyama just kind of throws in a bit too many familiar plot elements to the point that it feels overly safe.  You've seen these characters before, too.  We have the mismatched co-workers who start out hating each other, but soon fall in love, only to break up again because the guy has gotten a better job offer, and didn't tell the woman.  We have the couple nervous about adopting their first kid.  We have the grumpy old man who learns to open his heart after losing his wife.  We have the young woman who strikes up a friendship with the geeky guy who secretly loves her, but she's more interested in the more handsome guy, who of course turns out to be a vain and egotistical jerk.  About the only new twist this movie gives us is that the mismatched co-workers have their big break up live on camera on a morning news show while interviewing a clown.

And just how do the dogs connect all these storlines?  Let me give you an example.  A lonely old retired professor (Ron Cephas Jones) loses his beloved and overweight pug dog when a 16-year-old pizza delivery boy named Tyler (Finn Wolfhard) distracts him, causing the pug to run away.  The professor suffers what seems to be a mild heart attack at the exact same time, and the kid helps him.  The movie then completely forgets that this medical emergency ever happened, as both the professor and the kid are immediately teaming up to look for the dog.  As they search, it's revealed that Tyler is struggling in his high school literature class, and that just so happens to be the old man's forte.  He tutors him, and Tyler's grades immediately improve.  Meanwhile, it just so happens that Tyler's high school teacher (Rob Corddry) and his wife (Eva Longoria) have just adopted a daughter, and are having a hard time getting the kid to open up to them.  They then find the professor's missing dog, and the little girl immediately blossoms emotionally because of it.  Eventually, the high school teacher finds out about the professor's lost dog through Tyler, puts two and two together, and there's a lot of hard decisions about how the couple should break the news to their daughter that they found the owner. 

Other plots: The host of a morning news show (Nina Dobrev) gets a co-host (Tone Bell), and they bond over the fact that their dogs like each other.  An irresponsible musician (Adam Pally) has to take care of his sister's great big dog after she goes into labor and gives birth to twins.  He is not thrilled at first, but he grows to love the dog, and even rushes it to the handsome young vet (Ryan Hansen) after the dog gets into some pot brownies.  Speaking of the vet, he has the attention of a sweet young coffee shop worker (Vanessa Hudgens), who doesn't realize that the right man for her is the equally sweet and dorky guy (Jon Bass) that runs an animal rescue shelter.  I'm guessing by now that not only do you get the picture, but pretty much know how these plots will unravel, and where the characters will end up.  I don't need my movies to be completely original, as long as they offer something smart or witty in the script that gives me the impression that the writers were not sleeping at the wheel while dreaming up the story. 

Dog Days never gave me that impression.  It's content to just go along, not ruffling any feathers, or creating much of a response in its audience outside of "look at the cute dogs".  In all honesty, there are a few weird side characters who show up now and then that might have been interesting if the movie had given them something to do, such as a dog therapist who finds herself helping her human clients with their problems more than the dogs, or a weather lady on the morning news show who rambles about the problems in her personal life on air instead of covering the weather.  However, these come across not so much as characters, as potentially funny ideas that just were never fleshed out.  Instead of making its characters interesting or relatable, the movie instead focuses on forced manipulation.  And yes, the movie does resort to one dog having to be put to sleep in order to ensure everyone tears up at least once while watching it.

I don't want to come across as a cynic.  This movie only wants to be a sweet and pleasant experience, and I guess it kind of works.  Despite the thin writing, the performances here were enough to make these characters likable.  There's just not much here outside of watching some likable actors and cute dogs.  Maybe that's what you're looking for.  If so, I say go and enjoy.  Just don't expect anything more than that.

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