Dog Days at least has the decency to be entertainingly bad.
In the last few years of his life, in fact even up to three months before his passing, the legendary Garry Marshall brought us what I dub the “mega rom-com.” They’re basically multiple heavily shortened or simplified individual rom-com movies, with all the accompanying clichés and character archetypes and big Movie Stars, smushed together into one near-two hour mega rom-com. Characters may have minor connections to one another and cross paths in each other’s stories for a brief moment, but rarely in any substantial way that could stop these stories from being relatively stand-alone, save for one (technically two) where the crossing paths is all part of the tearjerking payoff that lets audiences ruminate on how “we all, like, live in a society and it’s a small world after all.” Each story is loosely tied together by a theme, in Marshall’s case it was various holidays, but that’s basically incidental to the act of maximising alleged bang-for-buck by expediting the viewer’s journey towards the Big Moments of a rom-com without actually putting in the work required to make them connect beyond the instinctual emotional recognition caused when that beat – a grand declaration of love, the meet-cute, the tragedy that comes suspiciously close to the Second Act Break-Up – occurs.
Now, for sure, Marshall didn’t invent the mega rom-com, Richard Curtis’ abominable Love, Actually keeps getting Christmas plays and twits insisting it’s brilliant every year without fail, but his is the kind of movie I think of when presented with a film like Dog Days. After all, Curtis (thankfully) only made one whilst Marshall made three of the bastards – Valentine’s Day in 2010, New Year’s Eve in 2011, and Mother’s Day in 2016 – but also because Marshall’s films were especially reliant on their famous faces to carry proceedings through. Say what you like about Love, Actually, and I would gladly given the time, but you can’t accuse Curtis of not having put tangible effort into the thing, that he crafted proper stories and some decent jokes, that he knew how to light and stage scenes, and put together a consistent reality. Marshall’s films, even though the only one he had a writing credit on was Mother’s Day, reeked of slapdashery, of cheapness in spite of $50 million budgets, of overexposed lenses and lighting that seems determined to bloom out all life in shot, of having absolutely no idea how human beings behave, all made the more baffling due to this coming from the director of Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries.
Of those two ends of the spectrum then, Dog Days belongs firmly to the Marshall side of the mega rom-com divide. Although, where Marshall’s works stank of cynicism and were often miserably dull viewing, Dog Days at least has the decency to be entertainingly bad. Much like Marshall’s works, this is a film that has had an astounding level of non-thought put into it, where its thematic wrap-around, dogs – the thing that’s supposed to tie all of our disparate stories together – is often a complete and total afterthought. In almost every story, you could take the dogs out of proceedings and lose absolutely nothing substantial. But that’s only the beginning of the slapdashery, here headed up by, of all the goddamn people, Ken Marino (The State, Children’s Hospital) behind the camera and his wife Erica Oyama (Burning Love) and Elissa Matsueda behind the typewriters.
We’ve got character arcs that claim resolution but in reality are left unfinished. Blown jokes everywhere thanks to beats that hang around for achingly longer than they need to. Lots of blatant background green-screening, including at the converging-climax of the movie, that looks embarrassingly cheap despite filming on location in LA. One scene at a vet contains a random insert-close-up of an extra we have never seen before, giving what could generously be described as a reaction shot, solely because he needs to turn up again 10 minutes later to awkwardly sing “Amazing Grace,” also for no discernible reason. Every shot is overexposed and over-lit to ludicrous degrees that would make even Hallmark Original Movies cry for mercy – one scene especially, involving two characters walking down a street confessing potential feelings for one another, appears to gradually get even more exposed as the scene runs on, like it’s taking place on the surface of the goddamn sun or something.
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But technical incompetence alone does not make an entertainingly bad movie, and it certainly doesn’t allow one to ignore the creepy undertones of ‘nice guy’ stories that rom-coms can often propagate without shame – and which one of Dog Days’ various plots runs heavily on, embodied by Jon Bass (last seen also being the dirt worst in the Baywatch reboot) as an often petulant and excessively socially-inept dog sanctuary manager.
Fortunately, Dog Days often seems to exist in some kind of bizarro world logic that at times dips into a surreality which is kind of mesmerising to witness. There’s the aforementioned “Amazing Grace” bit, but perhaps I should also mention that said song comes as the tag to a thoroughly misguided sequence in which one character’s dog suffers a stroke at the exact moment in which he finds out his co-host and love interest has dumped him for a new co-host, both apparently being equally cruel twists of the knife but which just caused me to burst out laughing at the audacity of it all. (Yes, I’m going to hell.)
Dog Days exists in a world in which the #1 morning news programme is a cavalcade of constant disasters and cock-ups with blatant host-bickering and big centrepiece interviews with random clowns. Landlord eviction threats are cited as excuses for certain characters not being able to have dogs or as a potential source of danger only for absolutely nothing to come of them. Adam Pally’s funk-rock playing slacker – related: Dog Days shows enough restraint to wait 90 whole minutes before finally deploying “Who Let the Dogs Out?” only to do so in a Train/Jason Mraz-style mid-10s funk-rock cover with additional vocoder – is conscripted into looking after his pregnant sister’s dog and she is, without question, one of the worst human beings alive and unfit to be a parent. The local vet is frequented entirely by young sexy women trying to creep on the hot head vet in charge and nobody ever calls this behaviour out. Eva Longoria and Rob Corddry both have a dance sequence set to “Wannabe” by Spice Girls that goes on for an excruciating length of time. At one point, Vanessa Hudgens wrongly assumes Adam Pally has been kidnapping people and maces him and (somehow) herself in the face because… comedy?
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There are plenty of other such oddities throughout Dog Days’ inexplicable near-two-hour runtime and, whilst none of them make the movie good or worth paying money to see, they also don’t cause watching it to be an endurance run and the film overall can be quite funny. Alongside cheaper B-tier ringers for this sort of thing like Longoria, Hudgens, Finn Wolfhard and Nina Dobrev (the latter of which is actually pretty good and strikes up decent chemistry with Tone Bell), Marino has goosed his cast with a murderer’s row of comic talent cashing paycheques and outperforming the material like Thomas Lennon, David Wain, and particularly Tig Notaro as a mercilessly expensive dog therapist. Mind, the ratio between intentional comedy and unintentional stemming from inept filmmaking and a cavalcade of little… wrongness that adds up into something constantly off – for another example, time seems to flow without rhyme or reason, jumping forward at random intervals without notice – is lopsided in favour of the latter. Plus, again, this is not a “good” film by any reasonable metric. But in a year of forgettable mediocrity and overwhelming dullness, a calamity like Dog Days at least has a charm to itself that I vastly prefer in my bad movies.
Plus, of course, it’s got lots of good dogs.
Dog Days is available on DVD and Blu Ray now.