I am tempted, very tempted, to write the following review...
"Old Dogs" is.
Avoiding temptation, I will simply say that "Old Dogs" is easily one of 2009's biggest cinematic disappointments, a film that manages to squander the talents of John Travolta, Robin Williams, Kelly Preston and Bernie Mac into what is easily one of the most irritatingly unfunny films of the year.
"Old Dogs" is so irritatingly unfunny that you can't help but keep looking for an Eddie Murphy cameo to complete the perfect storm of comedic failure in this dull, formulaic and often mean-spirited flick from the folks at Disney.
Mining the same, but much less charming and funny, material that he did in the surprise hit "Wild Hogs," director Walt Becker goes broad in this tale of Charlie (John Travolta) and Dan (Robin Williams). Charlie and Dan are best friends, business partners and perpetual screw-ups when it comes to anything related to actual human contact. In a one-night post-divorce fling several years ago, Dan drunkenly married then quickly annulled the marriage to Vicki (Kelly Preston), with whom he's maintained a longtime, from a distance crush. Unexpectedly, Vicki calls him out of the blue, pops in for a visit and announces she's been sentenced to serve two weeks for an act of peaceful resistance.
"Oh, and by the way, we also have twins, Zach (Conner Rayburn) and Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta, in her cinematic debut)."
Of course, we all know where this is going...Zach and Emily's two dads are called into action to care for the precious and precocious seven-year-old twins and thus begins a series of painfully unfunny grossly manipulated comic set-ups, human interactions, body function jokes and looks of pain and horror on the face of Robin Williams.
One can almost hear Robin Williams thinking aloud "I've worked so hard to become a serious actor. Is it all being flushed down the drain?"
Ummm, yes. Actually, it is.
The images of Robin Williams, looking decidedly constipated, lacking anything resembling chemistry with Preston and markedly uncomfortable doing physical comedy he'd have likely balked at even as a younger comic, is nothing short of uncomfortable and NOT uncomfortable "ha ha."
It's clear that Travolta's having much more fun here, perhaps owing to the simple fact that he's getting to work with both wife, Kelly Preston, and his daughter, Ella on the last film he made before their son, Jett. "Old Dogs" even features a couple other Travolta family members in lesser parts, Margaret and Sam. Travolta's joy at working with family, however, can't hide the fact that even his energetic performance doesn't energize "Old Dogs."
To be fair, there are a couple moments in which it feels like director Walt Becker may very well tap into that off-kilter, quirky humanity that made "Wild Hogs" a surprise hit and a decent, light comedy. These moments come when Becker and screenwriters David Diamond and David Weissman lay off the gimmicks, special effects and unnecessary humor and focus squarely on the two older, long irresponsible men suddenly developing a true affection for Zach and Emily.
Unfortunately, within moments we are swooped back into silliness and stupidity and any sense of actual human connection is lost.
In an additional stroke of morbid curiosity, "Old Dogs" is also the final film of Bernie Mac, whose appearance as a larger-than-life puppeteer is completely unnecessary and yet still one of the film's highlights. Additional supporting player Seth Green essentially mines material from characters past as an up-and-coming advertising exec working under the guidance of Charlie and Dan. Green gets the majority of the film's over-the-top moments, moments that a younger Sandler or Williams would have tackled years ago (and with much greater success).
Disney is advertising that "Old Dogs" is about these two older gents who are led to realize what's "really important in life." One can't help but assume that both Travolta and Williams are learning the same thing from "Old Dogs."
The lesson? Stay away from Walt Becker, stay away from scripts like "Old Dogs" and, yes, the opportunity to work with family is not inherently reason enough to humiliate yourself and your career on a worldwide basis.
Historically, I'm a believer in "no kill" shelters. In this case, I'll make an exception. "Old Dogs" should be put to sleep.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic