Directed by: Walt Becker (Wild Hogs
Starring: Robin Williams, John Travolta, Seth Green, Kelly Preston, Conner Rayburn, Ella Bleu Travolta
Trying to decide whether or not Walt Becker’s Old Dogs is actually the worst movie Robin Williams has ever made drove me to look over his credits. It’s a disgusting array—License to Wed (2007), Man of the Year (2006), RV (2006)—and that’s only looking at the more recent ... stuff. I’m not saying that co-star John Travolta’s credentials are exactly unblemished, but his badness seems generally more passive. Mr. Williams’ awfulness, however, is aggressive in the extreme. Without actually revisiting the unholy trinity listed above (that would require a substantial raise in pay), I’m inclined to say that while Old Dogs isn’t quite as creepy as License to Wed, it’s still marginally worse.
Old Dogs is—quite simply—the nadir of filmmaking. It throws together a bunch of vintage sitcom situations, drops them into an even older sitcom plot (whether they fit or not), pads things out with slapstick the Three Stooges would have rejected as too broad and repetitive, and then drowns the whole thing in feel-good, life-lesson banana oil. Here’s the premise: Dan (Williams) and Charlie (Travolta) are life-long buddies (insert doctored childhood photos here) who are now partners in some vague upscale business I never quite understood—except that they’re about to close a $47-million deal with a Japanese company.
Trouble rears its head—as it is wont to do in such movies—when Vicki (Kelly Preston) saddles Dan—who was once her husband for 24 hours—with a pair of preciously precocious fraternal twins, who, of course, are the result of their 24-hour marriage. Why? Well, believe it or not, mom has a date making license plates (quite literally) with the Vermont Department of Corrections. Who better to fob the tykes off on than their father? This, of course, has less to do with logic than with all the raucous laughter that will obviously ensue from the spectacle of Dan—and by extension, Charlie—attempting to play dad. All of this is predicated on the idea that no one involved has a single functioning brain cell.
Alas, this is too thin to support the film’s blessedly brief 88-minute running time, so the movie lurches along in barely integrated “comedic” set pieces. Since our heroes are in their 50s, it naturally follows that they are on all manner of medication. OK, I’m in my 50s and I’m on probably more medication than the average person my age, but these boys are walking pharmacies—and with drugs that have side effects I’m hard-pressed to imagine. Anyway, the drugs are going to get mixed up and Dan will take Charlie’s and Charlie will take Dan’s. Merriment follows. Dan develops vision problems that result in a golf game that mostly involves distorted lens work and a grim determination to see how many times hitting Seth Green in the testicular region will get a laugh. I think they stopped at six, but I may have miscounted. It hardly matters, since there are plenty more gonads on the green just waiting for a shot.
Charlie, on the other hand, has taken something that gives him a bad case of the munchies, causing him to disrupt Ann-Margret’s (yes, Ann-Margret, who ought to know better) bereavement-group picnic. After that, his medication turns him into—thanks to CGI—Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs (1928), or perhaps Travolta’s auditioning for the Joker in some future Batman movie. Who knows and who cares? There’s also a scouting sequence (with Matt Dillon), a plot development where Dan’s son accidentally lands them the $47-million account by instant messaging with the head of the Japanese firm, an accident involving tanning spray, a lot of screaming, Seth Green falling prey to the blandishments of a lovesick gorilla and an honest-to-Lassie old dog, who is, of course, incontinent.
All of this is leading to one of those “what really matters in life” discoveries that you knew you were getting into the moment you saw the word “Disney” and the PG rating. In this case, it will involve Robin Williams wearing a jet pack so he can get to his children’s birthday party—on the way to which he will fall into a pond. The same person who thought seeing Seth Green take a shot to the crotch six times was funny must have edited this sequence, since we see Williams’ stunt double fall into the water at least four times. Unfortunately, Williams survives. The movie does not. Rated PG for some mild rude humor.