“Dog Days” is packed with clichés, but satisfies on a sentimental level

No clichés are avoided in the pleasant, if relentlessly adorable ensemble comedy Dog Days, in which no less than four pooches are featured before the opening credits are even finished rolling.

Straight away a question is pose: “What is it about dogs that bring us such enjoyment?”. Well, when was the last time your dog bit you? And when was last time life or another human took a chomp out of you? In this movie, the trying lives of a bunch of vanilla-flavoure Los Angeles dog owners are reflect in their hairy little friends. When a widower’s pug goes missing, for example, his lament for the absent dog represents the other hole in his life.

So, in a story that is predictable, the metaphors are a little on the snout. And the best laughs don’t come from the main characters. But from bit players Tig Notaro (as the straight-face pet psychiatrist) and Phoebe Neidhardt (as the effervescent, over-sharing television weather girl). Still, Dog Days, directed by actor Ken Marino, satisfies on a sentimental level, which is all that it ever was meant to do.

With a title like “Dog Days” and the promise of well-train, furry cuties of all sizes. There’s little that would have stopped dog lovers in the moviegoing public from turning this August release into a late summer hit. But the gentle surprise is that director Ken Marino’s ensemble romantic comedy mixing adorable canines and humans. Who need as much rescuing as the animals they adopt, is something of a shaggy charmer itself.

The last two story threads, which eventually converge, lean on affecting emotional truths about the role pets play in incomplete homes.

In one, nervous parents (Eva Longoria and Rob Corddry) worry about pleasing their newly adopt daughter Amelia (Elizabeth Caro). While elsewhere an ornery widower Walter (Ron Cephas Jones, “This Is Us”) loses his chubby pug Mabel, in the process befriending a neighborhood pizza delivery boy (Finn Wolfhard, “Stranger Things”) who offers help finding her.

Though there’s not exactly any suspense in the love matchups, they’re handle with an appealing effervescence and easygoing wit. Geeky Garrett’s obstacle in winning Tara’s affections is hunky, narcissistic veterinarian Dr. Mike (Michael Cassidy), a dilemma which naturally makes Garrett’s personalize attention to the chihuahua Tara discover into an appropriate metaphor for lovelorn Davids battling romantic Goliaths.

And when Elizabeth turns a testy on-camera exchange. That with a flirtatiously combative ex-football player (a highly charismatic Tone Bell) into a blossoming friendship. It’s their dogs’ initial spark toward each other that clearly signals what’s to come. Perhaps the most persuasively heartwarming love connection is between exasperate Dax and needy Charlie. Whose bond amounts to a symbiotically messy, junk food-loving, man/dog bromance.

It’s never been too difficult for these types of movies to play us like fiddles, and if it’s tears you want, Jones offers a small masterclass in the subtle swerve from performative crankiness to thawing sentiment.

But it’s Marino’s comedy background – going back to co-founding the influential comedy troupe The State, and continuing as a writer (“Role Models”) and director (“Children’s Hospital”) – that helps make “Dog Days,” which features his longtime colleagues David Wain and Thomas Lennon in minor comic roles, a breezily enjoyable two hours. (Marino himself appears, too, in a tartly funny bit as a vain co-anchor of Elizabeth’s.)

There’s a refreshingly contain, deadpan sass to many of the characters’ personalities – and even Marino’s direction of the actors. That makes these people appealing, not abrasive, and which never devolves into the needlessly crude or ham-fistedly improvise. As so often happens in the more raucously engineer R-rate comedies.

One wonders if more comedians shouldn’t try their hand steering all-ages fare, if only as a challenge. Marino certainly shows how it can be done without losing laughs or – if one absolutely must depict the aftermath of a dog’s ingesting of pot brownies – grownup edge.

As for the canine cast, they’re not exactly the stars of “Dog Days,”. But their deployment as behaviorally appropriate companions, whether force to wear embarrassing clothes or provide a fitting reaction shot. That keeps the movie firmly in the realm of the believable/aspirational. One senses that the people behind this movie genuinely love, get, understand, and cherish that special bond. Which always makes it that much more likely a movie like this is going to know how to both tug the heart-leashes and tickle any well-chew funny bones.

INFO:

Rating: PG (for rude and suggestive content, and for language)
Genre: Comedy
Directed By: Ken Marino
Stars: Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Adam Pally
Written By: Elissa Matsueda
In Theaters: Aug 8, 2018 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Nov 20, 2018
Runtime: 112 minutes
Studio: LD Entertainment

CRITIC REVIEWS FOR DOG DAYS

Christy Lemire
If you want just like light happy doggy movie but, you also want the deep catharsis the satisfying deep cry this is it.

Brad Wheeler
Satisfies on a sentimental level, which is all that it ever was meant to do.

Cath Clarke
It makes Marley and Me look like Citizen Kane, and is actually pretty creepy, in the way that only aggressively life affirming movies can be.

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