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‘Dog Days’ more bark than bite

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August is an interesting month when it comes to the movies. It’s a landing spot for films that maybe don’t quite fit the now-traditional IP blockbuster mode, but don’t make sense in the fall, but are also too good for the January-February wasteland.

In many ways, “Dog Days” epitomizes a certain type of August movie. It’s an ensemble comedy that isn’t unceasingly raunchy or packed with big stars, one driven more by the uncynical central conceit that dogs make our lives better.

Despite the subversive comedy bona fides of director Ken Marino (of “The State” fame), “Dog Days” seems content to coast on moments of sentimental cuteness and easy jokes. It’s basically one of those Garry Marshall holiday-themed movies, only with more dogs and a less famous cast.

Let’s do a quick rundown of the players and their storylines, shall we?

There’s barista Tara (Vanessa Hudgens, TV’s “Powerless”), who feels like her life lacks purpose even as she ogles dreamy vet-next-door Dr. Mike (Michael Cassidy, “The Stray”). But when a scared dog turns up behind the coffee shop, she winds up connecting with a rescue operation owner named Garrett (Jon Bass, “Molly’s Game”).

There’s morning show host Liz (Nina Dobrev, “Flatliners”), who is dealing with the aftermath of an ugly breakup and is taking her dog Sam to a pet shrink (Tig Notaro, TV’s “One Mississippi”). Her producer adds a co-host – a former NFL player named Jimmy (Tone Bell, TV’s “Disjointed”) – and sparks fly both professionally and personally.

There’s wannabe rocker Dax (Adam Pally, TV’s “The Mindy Project”), who is forced to deal with Charlie the sheepdog when his sister Amy (Jessica St. Clair, TV’s “American Housewife”) and her husband Greg (Thomas Lennon, “A Futile and Stupid Gesture”) deal with the arrival of twins.

There’s elderly shut-in Walter (Ron Cephas Jones, TV’s “Luke Cage”), who has a weirdly antagonistic relationship with his regular pizza delivery guy, a smart-mouthed teenager named Tyler (Finn Wolfhard, “It”). That dynamic shifts when Walter’s pug Mabel runs off, leaving the unlikely duo to try and find her.

And finally, there’s Grace (Eva Longoria, “Overboard”). She and her husband Kurt (Rob Corddry, TV’s “Ballers”) have adopted a little girl named Amelia (Elizabeth Phoenix Caro in her debut), but they’re struggling to find a connection until a stray dog – the aforementioned Mabel – wanders into their lives.

There. That’s all of them, I think. And then the story progresses and there’s a bunch of relationship dynamic stuff and learning of lessons and general too-easy interconnectedness, bringing everyone together in a not-quite-outlandish fashion at the very end so that the whole bunch – people and dogs alike – winds up with happy endings.

Look, full disclosure: I was guaranteed to be in the bag for this movie from the word go. I love dogs and I love dogs in movies and filmmakers can use dogs to make me feel far bigger feelings than anything a human actor is going to elicit. And these dogs are CUTE. All shapes and sizes – a solid cross-section of dogness, I’d say.

It’s a weird fit for Marino - he’s directed mostly television, with his only other feature outing being 2017’s “How to Be a Latin Lover” – and his usual sensibilities. You’d expect a movie like this directed by him to be a bit more subversive, but he mostly plays it straight. Yes, there are some funny moments and the movie is definitely competently made, but it all feels very safe. Again – if this same movie had Garry Marshall’s name on it, you wouldn’t blink … and I’m honestly not sure if that’s a compliment or an insult or (most likely) both.

The huge cast does fine work, though the sheer number of storylines means that at least a few performers are going to be stuck scooping the poop, as it were. Dobrev is top-billed – she’s fine, if a bit vanilla, and has good chemistry with Bell – but the star of the movie feels like Hudgens, whose wide-eyed optimism is a great fit for a movie like this. She and Bass work well together comedically, but the comic relief really springs from Pally, whose slob-com vibe has a throwback feel to it that is charming. He’s a delight with St. Clair and Lennon and his dog relationship is also the funniest of the bunch.

Longoria and Corddry are lost in the shuffle a bit, despite getting plenty of screen time. For whatever reason, their storyline is static, never really developing in a significant way despite the time spent. On the flip side are Jones and Wolfhard, whose story is also underdeveloped, but feels much more engaging despite relatively few narrative resources devoted to it.

The truth is that none of the storylines go particularly deep. Such is the consequence of trying to engage five primary narratives in the space of 112 minutes. Nobody gets much of an arc and certain stories get forgotten for stretches of the film.

All in all, “Dog Days” is a perfectly fine, inoffensive little movie; it’s fun, but you’ll have trouble really engaging with the characters on any significant level.

Well, except for the dogs. The dogs are all good dogs.

[3.5 out of 5]

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