Tribeca 2017: Dog Years
Vic Edwards (Burt Reynolds, playing an iteration of himself, here) is a long-faded action icon, whose star fell due to poor career decisions that would’ve seen him otherwise in the same discussions as De Niro, Pacino, and Brando. He’s not shy about saying so, either, because he’s reached an age where giving a shit is something he used to do, but can’t. Dog Years gives us plenty, probably too many, instances of Edwards talking at length about things he used to be able to do.
I just wish it weren’t so obvious, cheap and baldly manipulative about doing so.
Dog Years opens with Vic having to put down his elderly dog, and that’s possibly one of the lesser scenes of string-pulling Adam Rifkin’s script features. The film repeatedly has Edwards, green-screened into scenes from his (read: Reynolds’s) heyday, talking to his younger, sex icon self as some voice of wisdom. But neither side of those conversations has anything interesting to say, beyond old Vic lamenting young Vic’s bad decisions, and young Vic responding with direct lines from the movies the scenes are lifted from. Those lines don’t fit the tone of the conversation attempted, and feel crowbarred into the narrative. What in concept could be interesting—an aged icon remarking on his own past, with his past self as the other side of the scene—comes off as one of those beer commercials where John Wayne would be badly inserted into the scene, regardless of propriety.
Then there’s the fact that unless you have some working knowledge of Burt Reynold’s storied 70’s action career, a lot of those scenes don’t work anyway. The moments come off more as trivia night, “guess the scene” than anything poignant.
Which is a damn shame, because Reynolds plays the hell out of the role. His every step is one taken with knowledge it’s closer to the end, and you can see the weight of his life hanging on his back, dragging him down. The farewell tour he takes of Knoxville has some potential to be touching, but because we’re stuck with the POV of Ariel Winter’s character (Modern Family) Lil, those scenes are at least at first, intercut with shrill whining. She inevitably comes around when she sees him sing at a wedding, after possibly having a heart attack in a hotel lobby. The relationship here, which could’ve sold most of the scenes as a younger generation learning to appreciate icons past, flatly does not work. Winter and Reynolds’s chemistry is fine, but the moments they have don’t land because there’s no progression in the story.
The script even goes meta toward the finale, with Edwards commenting that all of his movies were “predictable” and that you’d know exactly how they end before walking into the theater. But that monologue, which in-camera could’ve been poignant, is instead played over the exact predictable ending telegraphed earlier.
There’s good work done here in Dog Years, but none of it is behind the camera. Watch it for Reynolds if you feel a need for it, since he does great work. Otherwise, avoid it.