November 25, 2009

Old Dogs

Raise your hand if you're not an Oscar
winner disgracing yourself right now

Grade: D –

Director: Walt Becker

Starring: John Travolta, Robin Williams, Kelly Preston, Seth Green, Bernie Mac, Matt Dillon, and Justin Long

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

As applied to its lead stars, the name Old Dogs is more apt than producers probably intended. John Travolta and Robin Williams play BFFs and business partners who glimpse midlife on the horizon and their best years in the rearview mirror. In other words, they suggest loose interpretations of their professional selves, and nothing encapsulates their deteriorating careers like this Disney drek.

Dan (Williams) and Charlie (Travolta) find their lifelong bromance threatened when Dan’s erstwhile one-night stand (Kelly Preston) suddenly shows up with his heretofore unknown twin moppets (Conner Rayburn and Ella Bleu Travolta), needing Dan to babysit while she does two weeks in the pokey. (Is it just me, or is it a bit creepy that Travolta’s real-life wife and daughter play Williams’ love interest and child?)

Life lessons about fatherhood allegedly ensue, including a weepy scene in which mom, daughter, and the law of movie morality expects Dan to jettison the multi-million dollar deal culminating he and Charlie’s 30-year career just so Dan can attend his daughter’s latest birthday party (I guess they didn’t think the first five or six were so important).

Director Walt Becker brandishes the dexterity of a hacksaw, like he did in his previous Travolta-starring calamity, Wild Hogs. Here, the entire film has only two gears: schmaltzy and farcical. The screenplay is nothing more than a series of barely connected sketches replete with gags about Asians, homo-anxiety, crotch-shots, and a dog with bladder control problems. There are also lots of human and animal reaction shots, plus uneven cameos. Only Matt Dillon and Justin Long acquit them well as gung-ho nature camp counselors. The rest of the supporting cast needs better agents or script-readers: Rita Wilson plays a cross-eyed hand model; Ann-Margret wanders in from the wilderness; and Bernie Mac is given nothing funny to say or do in this, his final film role before his untimely death in August 2008. Even the usually reliable Seth Green flounders; his only semi-amusing scene is already featured prominently in the film’s trailer.

It’s fitting that this big, unpalatable turkey is opening on Thanksgiving weekend. As it is, these Old Dogs need to be put down.

Neil Morris

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