‘Dog Days’ Is Ken Marino’s Weirdly Chaste Attempt To Make ‘Dog Actually’

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Adam Pally’s character in Dog Days leads a bar band called Frunk, who seem to specialize in bluesy, slowed down covers of novelty schlock songs, like “The Right Stuff,” “I’m Too Sexy,” and “Who Let The Dogs Out” (natch). This turns out to be a useful metaphor for the movie as a whole, which plays out exactly like a glacially-paced, bar band version of throwaway rom-com schmaltz.

Look, not every movie is for every person. Dog Days is clearly not for me, and that’s fine. Not that I didn’t go in with high hopes. It was directed by Ken Marino and is ostensibly about dogs, which at first glance did seem like it’d be right up my alley. Very quickly it becomes clear, however, that Dog Days is not the kind of goofy improvisational-ish comedy Ken Marino excelled at on Party Down and The State. It feels almost like Marino made Dog Days as a present for someone, someone either very young or very old. Maybe it was a failed exercise in family friendliness? Whatever the case, it’s so scrubbed of anything non-wholesome that it barely exists at all.

The idea seems to have been to do a sort of “Dog Actually,” a series of sweet interconnected vignettes with a dog theme. That actually sounds like a fine pitch (my intense hatred of Love Actually has little to do with the format, and is largely assuaged by the promise of dogs), only it feels written and directed for people who have never seen a movie before. The characters are stock. The storylines are stock. The sets are stock, and the resulting aesthetic is a little like a Christian country concert. Even the dogs eventually wear out their welcome.

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You can predict how each storyline will play out within the first 10 minutes, and every creative decision is exactly as on the nose as the fact that someone plays “who let the dogs out” during the climax of a dog movie. Every actor is perfectly styled and scrubbed and coiffed like they just stepped out of the makeup trailer for a retirement fund ad and every set is tastefully appointed in neutral inoffensive colors like my off-white Crate and Barrel nightmare. Which Marino and his cinematographer Frank Barrera then shoot in evenly lit, claustrophobic closeups that make you think every character is about to thank Proactive. They do have very nice skin.

Those with perfectly styled hair and uncanny valley white teeth include: Rob Corddry and Eva Longoria, playing the recently adoptive parents of a very standoffish little girl (intentionally AND because she’s an inexperienced actress); Nina Dobrev, playing a morning show host whose dainty head is 93% covered with shiny bangs, and who’s been stuck with an ex-NFL player co-host (Tone Bell); Thomas Lennon and Jessica St. Clair, as the harried parents of newborn twins, and her van-driving “slacker” brother played by Adam Pally; Vanessa Hudgens, as a barista with a crush on a hot rich veterinarian (yeah okay sure whatever), but who is in turn being crushed after by her dorky customer played by Jon Bass; and Ron Cephas Jones, as a widower and fat pug owner who befriends his teenage pizza boy (Finn Wolfhard). Even the supposedly poor characters live in massive apartments and wear clothes that look like they just came off the rack at Nordstrom.

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Already this is a lot of words for this movie. Suffice it to say it’s exactly like the first five minutes, only longer. There are occasional laughs, and intermittent clues that a lot of the people making this are actually really funny – notably in some brief scenes starring Tig Notaro as a dour dog psychologist – but it feels like Marino is directing this through a hole in a sheet. It’s not unfunny or anti-funny, just timid. There are lots of almost jokes and sweet situations but it’s almost as if full laughs have been deemed sinful. So often, the most painfully obvious line will come to mind and you’ll still have to wait another five minutes for the character to say exactly that.

It all felt to me like a sad echo three levels removed from anything resembling reality or human feelings. Though it must be said, the mothers of young children sitting two seats to my left and in front of me seemed to be having a blast, laughing and crying and awwwing at all the appropriate times. Like I said, it’s not for me, but it did seem to be for someone — exhausted moms with broods of filthy rascals who just want to watch nice adults be clean for 90 minutes, I’m guessing.

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I’m not a monster. I too enjoyed the chihuahua in the pink helmet. She got gratuitous reaction shots but they all played. It’s just a shame you can’t build an entire movie out of 2700 consecutive shots of a chihuahua in a pink helmet.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. More reviews here.