We have reached a point in our moviegoing life where the two most horrifying words a studio can mutter are "Robin" and "Williams." I'm sorry, it's true. Throw in "John" and "Travolta" and "Saw VI" starts to sound like "Bambi." Sure, these guys have brought joy to people's lives over the course of their careers. But watching them phone it in for the alleged comedy "Old Dogs" -- directed by Walt Becker, of the unspeakable "Wild Hogs" -- gives new meaning to the term "lackluster." Laughing is the last thing you want to do.
Recycling the overly familiar "instant parent" theme, "Old Dogs" has Williams as the movie's chief old dog, Dan, a buttoned-down type whose love life has been far less successful than the high-end sports-marketing firm he runs with Charlie (Travolta). Charlie is, of course, a far more rakish type than Dan (everything being relative), and when he drags his partner on an ill-considered Miami vacation, Dan winds up married to Vicki (Kelly Preston). At some point, the new couple sober up and get an annulment (perhaps realizing, post-margarita mash-up, that Preston is already married to Travolta). But there are consequences to such promiscuous behavior: Seven years later, Vicki shows up and drops off the two kids that Dan never knew he had.
Travolta, Williams are mangy 'Old Dogs'
By John Anderson
Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009
At this point, the reviewer feels the urge to write very quickly, because anyone who's reading this knowsexactlywhat'sgoingtohappen! But what you don't know is how ugly it's going to get, in terms of comedic atrocity. "Old Dogs" is rife with crotch gags, flatulence and other devices for teasing giggles out of children 10 and under, but it's not just genuine humor that's lacking here, it's a sense of purpose. Everything is manicured to the point of insulting perfection -- with the exception, of course, of the script. Seth Green has a funny bit with a gorilla in a zoo; Matt Dillon, who's always good, plays a martinet Boy Scout. The connection between these bits? There isn't one. Nor is there any excuse for the way Williams and Travolta then try to worm their way into our hearts, pretending that there's something at work beyond the tortured plot turns, screaming, lazy vulgarity and personality-free children. (Travolta-Preston daughter Ella Bleu plays Dan's daughter Emily; Tom Hanks's wife, Rita Wilson, plays a friend of Vicki, and gives her whole performance cross-eyed. We know how she feels.)
As Oscar Wilde once wrote of Dickens's "The Olde Curiosity Shoppe," only someone with a heart of stone could fail to laugh at the death of Little Nell. Which is how one feels watching Williams. When he puts on the sad clown face, you may indeed laugh, at the tragedy of what happens with success in the movies, and in a culture where Americans demand so little. Travolta is simply useless in "Old Dogs," but Williams is actively offensive, in the puerile manner by which he ties to milk sentimentality out of the wizened teat of "Old Dogs," which will leave you howling, but only over the cost of the ticket.
Anderson is a freelance reviewer.
Old Dogs -- (88 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for crude humor.