Old Dogs (United States, 2009)

November 24, 2009
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Old Dogs Poster

Here's a primer for how to endure Old Dogs if an unfortunate series of circumstances should place you where seeing it is unavoidable. Arrive late and leave early. In between, visit the concession stand as frequently as possible and stand in the longest lines. Drink a gallon of water beforehand so multiple visits to the restroom are mandatory. Hopefully, this will limit your exposure to a level where Old Dogs loses its toxicity and is merely uncomfortable, although I'm not sure that's possible. More tests are needed but there are some experiences no one should be subjected to even in the name of science. It may be that forced viewing of this film has been outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

Much has been made about how family films like Where the Wild Things Are and A Christmas Carol are too mature for younger children. The inverse is true of Old Dogs, which is too infantile for anyone who can speak in full sentences. As for the rest of the potential audience... They'll probably appreciate it, but many of them enjoy eating paste, so that establishes a baseline level of taste. To be frank, eating paste would probably be less likely to induce vomiting that sitting through the entirety of this motion picture abomination.

Old Dogs makes Wild Hogs, the predecessor of its director, Walt Becker, appear Oscar worthy. What's wrong with this movie? A better question might be: What's right? Every attempt at comedy is not only obvious but delivered in such a forced manner that any hope of generating laughter dies before the joke has been told. Old Dogs also attempts to include its share of dramatic moments; these are about as well conceived as Rob Schneider doing Shakespeare. Side effects of watching Old Dogs' mawkish melodrama range from eyeball rolling to uncontrolled retching.

A pall hangs over Old Dogs. It features the last screen appearance of Bernie Mac, whose death resulted in the movie's opening being delayed by about six months. It's also the last film John Travolta made before the death of his son, Jett. In fact, Jett is the only member of the Travolta clan not to have a role in this film. Travolta's wife, Kelly Preston, plays the lead female and his daughter, Ella Bleu, is one of the kids.

The two "old dogs" of the title are best buddies Charlie (Travolta) and Dan (Robin Williams), who have been in business together for 30 years. Now, on the eve of signing a huge contract with a Japanese firm, Dan discovers that a 24-hour fling seven years ago with Vicki (Kelly Preston) resulted in the birth of fraternal twins Zach (Conner Rayburn) and Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta). With Emily scheduled to spend two weeks in jail on a civil disobedience charge, she needs someone to care for the children. That's where Dan and Charlie come in. This leads to a series of misadventures involving camping out, bear poop, dog urine, human flatulence, golf, and a visit to the zoo. Amazingly, the filmmakers manage to take situations that should at least have a minimal level of comedic potential and reduce them to where laughter by anyone over the age of four could be construed as a sign of a psychological maladjustment.

Perhaps the saddest thing about this movie is reflecting upon how far Robin Williams has fallen as a comedian. Once one of the funniest men in Hollywood, Williams has been reduced to this. (To be fair, he has shown strong dramatic chops - his performance in the dark comedy World's Greatest Dad is a testimony to that.) It's easy to see the attraction for Travolta since the involvement of his wife and daughter allowed him to spend more time with the family. He should have just submitted a few home movies instead and spared us the agony of Old Dogs. Supporting players include Seth Green as a junior member of Charlie and Dan's firm, Lori Laughlin as a love interest for Charlie, and Matt Dillon as a camp director.

If there's anything significant about Old Dogs, it's that it illustrates how diminished Thanksgiving weekend has become for movie releases. Once, this was deemed the fourth biggest time of the year for opening films (after Memorial Day, Christmas, and July 4). Now, it's a dumping ground. With good reason, Disney has little faith in this movie's performance - they're releasing it against their own A Christmas Carol, and it will soon be joined by The Princess and the Frog. Perhaps like old soldiers, Old Dogs will fade away - although not matter how quickly it does that, it won't be fast enough.

Old Dogs (United States, 2009)

Run Time: 1:28
U.S. Release Date: 2009-11-25
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1