Old Dogs

What It Is

Less a movie than a series of clamorous set pieces and clumsy jokes, Old Dogs begins with that most banal of plot points, the male midlife crisis. Dan (Robin Williams) and his business partner Charlie (John Travolta) are about to seal a big deal with a Japanese company, when he’s visited by an ex-wife, Vicki (Kelly Preston). It appears that a brief, alcohol-inspired marriage produced twins seven years ago, and now she needs a sitter for two weeks. Though it interferes with the presentation schedule, Dan can’t say no. Charlie, being Dan’s best friend to the end, tags along on a hectic assortment of activities, from camping to skeet-shooting to human-puppeteering.

If the men need to grow up, the kids serve as prop-like occasions for their life lessons. Vickie has told little Zach (Conner Rayburn) and Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta) that their dad’s a superhero, out saving people rather than looking after them. Eager to be impressed, the twins grant him -- and Charlie -- a wide berth of inappropriate responses. Thus they don’t worry too much that Charlie calls in a furniture-breaking crew to childproof his house (even Dan knows this is silly for seven-year-olds) or make fools of themselves in front of crowds at restaurants or zoos. In return for spending a couple of minutes helping Zach ride a two-wheeler or playing tea party with Emily, Dan and Charlie are subjected to one physically abusive lesson after another. At camp, they’re mistaken for gay partners (earning a raised eyebrow from counselor Matt Dillon), then forced into a hyper-aggressive Frisbee match (played by “prison rules,”which apparently means lots of loud thwacks and hard falls). Somehow, all these unrelated episodes lead to family unity by film’s end, aboard a yacht, no less.

Why It’s Fun

Some viewers may be amused by Williams and Travolta’s rubber faces or even the doggy reaction shots (Charlie has a longtime companion, cute in himself but used as the butt of feeble jokes concerning his old age, for instance, he pees on the floor). But after the first or second pass, the move’s brutal slapstick turns tiresome. The late Bernie Mac makes a very brief appearance (his final film role) as a friend of Charlie’s who knows how to wire humans in order to control their actions remotely: their manipulations of Dan during his tea party with Emily are predictable (he speaks stiffly, slaps himself, and eventually spins out of control during a dance), and Zach’s use of the term ”poop” in emails to his dad’s clients is more irritating than cute.

Who’s Going To Love It

The film seems aimed at the same audience who saw Wild Hogs, also directed by Walt Becker and starring Travolta. In both, the focus is middle-aged men forced to grow up suddenly. In the first movie, they took off on motorcycles, yearning for a last whiff of freedom and open roads. Here, spending time with Zach and Emily teaches the ersatz children, Dan and Charlie, how to have fun and be responsible. It’s unclear whether these intended viewers are adults or children, but in either case, they will enjoy seeing large, wealthy, out-of-shape men suffer a wide range of indignities en route to ostensible wisdom.

What To Be Aware Of

In addition to punishing Dan and Charlie for their ignorance, the movie also submits other adults to abuses. The running joke about their assistant Ralph (Seth Green) is that he’s small (“like a hobbit”) as well as immature: when they send him to Japan as their emissary, he misses his first meeting because he stays out all night at a karaoke bar, then explains he’s a “premie,” thus deprived of oxygen at birth (not a very funny gag). The movie spends a lot of time setting up a joke concerning the men’s medications (for prostate, blood pressure, etc.): when they take the wrong pills, each acts outrageously, afflicted with poor depth perception (this leads Dan to hit his Japanese clients with golf balls to their crotches), dry-mouth, and facial paralysis. Poor Ann-Margret endures the worst of it, playing the leader of a bereavement support group who’s horrified by Charlie’s excessive appetite at a memorial service. Predictably, women are repeatedly asked to look after the childish men. Lori Loughlin is the men’s infinitely patient Japanese translator (whose cleavage is apparently irresistible to Charlie). Rita Wilson plays Vickie’s best friend Jenna with crossed eyes (another unamusing bit), reduced to minutes of screaming when Dan accidentally slams her hands in a car trunk and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” plays on the soundtrack. In a word: ouch!

See-It-Again Points

2 out of 10

Film Information

Old Dogs
Director: Walt Becker
Cast: John Travolta, Robin Williams, Kelly Preston, Seth Green, Ella Bleu Travolta, Lori Loughlin, Matt Dillon
Studio: Disney
Year: 2009
Rated: PG
US Premiere: November 25, 2009
UK Premiere: April 17, 2009
Official Website
Official Trailer
Movie Pictures


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