I can certainly sympathize with longtime favorite actors Robin Williams and John Travolta after all they've endured in recent years. Williams has coped with alcoholism, divorce, and heart surgery, while the Travolta family suffered the tragic loss of 16-year-old son Jett.
But it's much harder to sympathize with a terrible creative decision like Old Dogs, which could best be summed up in one word:
Seriously, why do once great actors attach themselves to a dog of a picture like this? Surely they still have standards? Alas, their judgment seems to be fading, as Williams' career continues its self-destructive nosedive, with Travolta seemingly eager to follow.
The trailer for Lost Dogs is unfunny, but explaining the actual plot is even worse. Williams and Travolta respectively play Dan and Charlie, lifelong friends who run a successful sports marketing firm together. How they're successful or why they remain friends is a mystery, since Charlie endears himself to clients by sharing embarrassing personal stories about Dan.
This device provides us with backstory explaining that Dan's wife divorced him seven years ago. To console his friend, Charlie takes him to Miami for a weekend of binge drinking and womanizing—both leading to an accidental marriage that is quickly annulled the next day. Charlie's "punchline" point is that Dan divorced twice within 24 hours.
Later, Dan learns that his one-night-stand "ex-wife" Vicki (Kelly Preston, Travolta's real wife) wants to get together while she's in town. They meet for lunch and she reveals that he's the father of 7-year-old twins Zach (Connor Rayburn) and Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta in her big-screen debut). In the very model of contrived plotting, she also mentions that she's about to go to prison for a couple weeks because of a protest against a corporation dumping chemicals in her backyard. (The kids, of course, only think she's going to a spa.) After spending the day together, they drop Zach and Emily off with Vicki's best friend, who is suddenly hospitalized by Dan in an unlikely accident.
The plot necessitates that Vicki has no one else to trust her kids with for two weeks, so eager-to-please Dan volunteers to watch them. While saying goodbye, Vicki offers some of the movie's most ridiculous lines. After giving a laundry list of last minute requests and conditions, Vicki removes any chance of common sense in this movie by requesting, "No babysitters! The kids have gone seven years without a dad, so no more strangers." (Right, because Dan has spent so long getting to know them.)
Predictably, Dan ropes in "Uncle Charlie" to help, since he's responsible for the Miami trip in the first place. Which leaves us with yet another clichéd film about inexperienced bachelors trying to be fathers to mischievous kids, all while trying to close the biggest business deal of their careers.
Since there are two "dads," Old Dogs gets to play it both ways—Dan is overprotective, Charlie is irresponsible—and of course, the message is the same as always: Dads need to better prioritize their lives by working less and making more time for their children. Oh misguided, overworked fathers-who-aren't-really-fathers, when will you ever learn to care for the kids you didn't know you had a day ago?
Formula can be forgiven when it's funny, but Old Dogs merely regurgitates convention while stringing together unrelated acts of slapstick and stupidity. Director Walt Becker has yet to prove himself as competent, his only previous hit being Wild Hogs and his next film being Wild Hogs 2: Bachelor Ride.
His work here would best be served in classrooms as an example of how not to make a comedy, with most of the gags telegraphed well in advance, and too often relying on poor taste.
Williams is the worst off—there's nothing he won't do in this movie. See his overly hairy chest get shaved for an absurd tattoo. See him become ridiculously over-tanned at a salon, to the point where he's mistaken for an Indian and a Hispanic in the next scene. See him stand in a bathroom stall talking about where babies come from while his son farts on a toilet. See him smear bear poop on his face and Travolta's. See him get beat up by zealous camp counselors during a supposed game of ultimate Frisbee. See him smack people in the groin with golf equipment. See him behave like an out-of-control puppet, manipulated in an electronic suit by Travolta. See him roll around on the floor in dog food wearing a garish costume while sparks explode out of his pants. Need I say more?
Free of profanity, Old Dogs may be positioned as a family comedy, but it's not. The PG film devalues marriage by portraying casual divorce and one-night stands. The kids are barely even characters, their lines mostly yelling and whining to get what they want. The sense of humor is often irresponsible, with the kids accidentally mixing up Dan and Charlie's prescription drugs so we can watch the "hilarious" side effects, and the would-be dads supposedly endearing themselves to the 7-year-olds by showing them Friday the 13th.
Desperate for cheap laughs, the filmmakers bring in the attacking animals for the finale. Dan and Charlie break into a zoo with their young assistant Ralph (Seth Green) to attend Emily's birthday party—don't ask. They milk it for all its worth, with penguins pecking at Charlie from every direction while a gorilla snuggles with petite Ralph, over and over again. Unfortunately for everyone involved, audience included, the movie is well beyond saving by that point.
It's also pathetic how Old Dogs tries to pull our heartstrings without earning our emotions. We're supposed to believe that Dan is so bad and inexperienced with kids that he shakes his daughter's hand goodnight when putting her to bed. Yet later, the script flips a switch, and voila, we've suddenly got good, caring parents who know exactly what to do. Pure pap.
It's amazing that Williams and Travolta aren't the only well-known actors—cameos or not—who felt compelled to join this mess. Granted, if you roll a camera, Dax Shepard and Justin Long will appear in just about anything, but what dirt did Becker uncover to blackmail Rita Wilson (Tom Hanks' wife), Matt Dillon, Amy Sedaris, and Ann-Margaret into this? And I'm not sure which is sadder: That this is Bernie Mac's last film before his untimely death, or that Williams and Travolta could potentially make movies worse than this before they call it quits.
Old Dogs is an embarrassment to the cinematic legacy of Walt Disney. They should have taken a cue from their own classic Old Yeller and put this dog down quickly.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- What quality does this movie suggest to be the most important in being a parent? Do you agree, or is there something more essential than "being available"?
- In what ways do Dan and Charlie have misplaced priorities at the beginning of Old Dogs? In what ways do they improve by the movie's end? Is it wrong to place work as a high priority, even as a parent? At what point does work become too high a priority?
- Read 1 Corinthians 13. Discuss how Dan and Charlie put "childish ways" aside and love others better.
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Old Dogs is rated PG for some mild rude humor. While there's no profanity, this isn't really a family comedy because of the adult themes. For example, Robin Williams' character deals with the grief of a divorce by running off to Miami with John Travolta's character for a weekend binge involving alcohol and sex; there's nothing shown aside from a some silly-looking drinks, but it all leads to a short-lived wedding and two children born out of wedlock. The rude humor involves things like a dog with a bladder problem and the two leads smearing bear poop on their faces. This movie could also cause kids to mistakenly believe that they can whine and yell to get what they want—or that it's safe and funny to mix up up their parents' prescription drugs.
Photos © Walt Disney Pictures
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