A galumphing comedy offered as a balm for the late summer doldrums, “Dog Days” crossbreeds romantic clichés with cute canines and inspired bits of offbeat humor. As a mutt, it possesses a certain scruffy charm, as long as you’re in the mood to forgive its lapses.
Although structured by screenwriters Elissa Matsueda and Erica Oyama like the now-classic rom-com anthology “Love Actually,” “Dog Days” lacks the polish and originality of that 2003 film, failing to dodge – or at least reinvent – the tired tropes, or to link all its disparate characters gracefully.
Despite that, director Ken Marino (who is married to Oyama) manages to find the funny and the weird within the movie’s clichés. If “Dog Days” is better than it deserves to be, it may be because of the filmmaker’s comedic chops, both behind and in front of the camera. (Marino has directed episodes of “Children’s Hospital,” and has a recurring role in “Fresh Off the Boat.”)
Plus, he has a cast of performers who are blessed with true comic pedigrees: spot-on timing and the ability to improvise.
Together they wrangle “Dog Days” into reasonable shape, linking subplots about a dozen or so people and their dogs. Although set in Los Angeles, there are corners of it that feel cozy and neighborhood-y.
One character, a coffee-shop barista played by Vanessa Hudgens, pines for a handsome veterinarian (Michael Cassidy). She finds a stray Chihuahua and brings it to him for a checkup, and then takes it to a shy dog-rescue guy (Jon Bass). Other characters include: a local TV host (Nina Dobrev) who has fallen for her on-air partner (Tone Bell); a feckless rock musician (Adam Pally); a lonely widower (Ron Cephas Jones); and two married couples. One of those couples (Jessica St. Clair and Thomas Lennon) is expecting twins; another has just adopted a little girl (Elizabeth Phoenix Caro). All of these people have something to do with dogs.
That’s a lot of threads, and “Dog Days” doesn’t deftly handle them.
And yet it entertains, thanks to the eccentric humor that Marino and his actors – including the four-legged ones – weave in. The dogs never seem to be gazing off at their trainers, but remain fully engaged in their interactions with humans. (Editor Brian Scofield may deserve some of the credit for that.)
What could otherwise have been corny, predictable, cobbled together becomes something of a treat, as Bass desperately flirts with Hudgens, Pally wrestles with a labradoodle and Jones wrings the clichés out of his grumpy archetype. Tig Notaro is also fun, playing a deadpan doggy psychiatrist who charges $300 per hour to offer only the most obvious advice.