Directed by Walt Becker. Starring Robin Williams, John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Seth Green, Ella Bleu Travolta, Conner Rayburn, Lori Loughlin, Matt Dillon, Rita Wilson, Dax Shepard, Bernie Mac, Luis Guzmán, Ann-Margret, Amy Sedaris, Justin Long. (2009, PG, 88 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 27, 2009
Let sleeping dogs lie, they say. But old dogs? Euthanasia is a common practice, I’m told, and wouldn’t be out of place on this doddering dross. Old Dogs amounts to little more than an opportunity for Williams and the Travolta family (parents Travolta and Preston co-star alongside daughter Ella Bleu Travolta) to cash nice paychecks – but not on the public’s dime, if there’s any justice. Old Dogs is not so much bad as it is witless and predictable. No one’s heart seems to be in the affair, and the paint-by-numbers comedy just doesn’t sell itself. Travolta and Williams play Charlie and Dan, phenomenally successful sports marketers who are on the verge of the biggest deal of their careers. We are not meant to pause and dwell on the fact that these two pudgy and sluggish fiftysomethings hardly seem the types to sit at the pinnacle of such a driven and competitive occupation. Out of nowhere, Dan discovers he is the father of a set of twins conceived during a night of sex seven years ago. The mother (Preston) is about to go to jail for two weeks as the result of an environmental protest. But for some unrealistic reason, she picks the night before she is to go to prison as the time to reveal the truth of his parentage to Dan. Complications arise, and Dan agrees to look after the children (Ella Bleu Travolta and Rayburn) for the fortnight, and of course that means his best pal and business partner Charlie also comes along for the ride. Cue the jokes about kids out with their grandpas. Equally funny: jokes about two gay men and their offspring. Let’s see; there’s also a tanning disaster, golf balls whacked to the nuts, a camp-out that ends with a calamitous game of “prison rules” Frisbee, a penguin attack, and a manic (and probably the film’s funniest) sequence in which the men’s daily pill allotments are switched and cause ridiculously comic side effects. Trivia connoisseurs should note that this film was Bernie Mac’s last; Old Dogs’ release was delayed eight months out of respect for the dead. (Maybe someone sensed that the comedian’s appearance as the flamboyantly gay and unfunny kids performer Jimmy Lunchbox would not be good for Mac’s legacy.) As with Mac, numerous top-flight performers (among them Dillon, Ann-Margret, Wilson, an unbilled Long) make what amount to little more than cameo appearances. In addition to Mac’s appearance 15 months after his death, a scene that occurs in what appears to be the old Shea Stadium piles on the film’s musty odor. Green gets some good mileage from his runty demeanor, and it’s no accident that his mildly humorous moment in the clench of a gorilla paw is one of the film’s key advertising images. Director Becker (Wild Hogs, Van Wilder treats the comedy in Old Dogs the same as if he were treating a case of mange: Apply two gags, rub in liberally, and call in the morning with the box-office totals. Aarf.