"DOG DAYS" — 2½ stars —Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Finn Wolfhard, Adam Pally, Ron Cephas Jones; PG (mild profanity, mild drug-related humor and suggested sexual content); in general release
If you throw enough ideas around, something is bound to stick. That seems to be the philosophy behind Ken Marino's "Dog Days," an ensemble film that wants to celebrate all the different ways our dogs enrich our lives.
The first line of the film feels like a mission statement: "What is it about dogs that brings us so much joy?" The line comes from Elizabeth (Nina Dobrev), a Los Angeles-area morning TV host who is just the first of many "Dog Days" protagonists.
We meet Elizabeth and her loyal dog Sam just before she's about to find out her long-term boyfriend (Ryan Hansen) isn't nearly as loyal. So they break up and the challenges keep coming when her producer (Toks Olagundoye) matches her up with an abrasive ex-NFL star (Tone Bell) as a permanent co-host.
Elsewhere, Dax (Adam Pally) is a burned out musician (with an inexplicably gorgeous apartment) who gets stuck dog-sitting Charlie when his sister (Jessica St. Clair) and brother-in-law (Thomas Lennon) get overwhelmed taking care of their newborn twins.
Dax's neighbor Tara (Vanessa Hudgens) is an underachieving barista in love with the veterinarian in the office across the street (Michael Cassidy). Tara finally finds a sense of purpose when she discovers Gertrude by the back dumpster and gets involved with a local dog rescue run by Garrett (Jon Bass), one of Tara's regular customers, who has a big crush on his barista.
Grace (Eva Longoria) and Kurt (Rob Corddry) are just about to adopt an adorable young girl named Amelia (Elizabeth Phoenix Caro), but in spite of a bedroom full of plush toys, she just won't open up — no matter how many spontaneous dance parties Grace stages to the Spice Girls. Then the family takes in a stray dog named Mabel, who helps Amelia come out of her shell, and everything seems wonderful. ...
But! Of course Mabel just happens to belong to a lonely widower named Walter (Ron Cephas Jones) who is still mourning the absence of his wife. Tyler (Finn Wolfard) is the 16-year-old pizza delivery boy who strikes up a friendship with Walter as they canvas the neighborhood in search of Mabel.
All of this is the setup. There's a lot of setup.
Each of the different vignettes is interconnected, and they all have their moments. Again, you throw enough stuff at the wall, right? At the same time, there's so much going on that you tend to forget about one story thread and say, "Oh yeah, these guys!" by the time it reappears.
This is pretty typical of ensemble movies — not everyone can be "American Graffiti" — but the humor content follows a similar trajectory, hitting occasionally and missing too often.
Even so, "Dog Days" has enough moments of sincerity to get you on its side, but it's interesting to note that often the different stories only tangentially involve the dogs themselves. More often than not, Man's Best Friend is a catalyst to a story that has more to do with the character arcs of the human beings around them. Maybe it's by design — or maybe it's because these dogs don't have character arcs.
For dog lovers, "Dog Days" should have plenty to get you nodding, though a more focused and better-written film would be more likely to climb the ranks of your all-time favorites. Marino's film sacrifices depth for breadth, but for the target audience, that may still be enough.
"Dog Days" is rated PG for some mild profanity, mild drug-related humor and suggested sexual content; running time: 112 minutes.