Old Dogs

Movie Information

The Story: A 50-odd-year-old man finds himself saddled with a pair of children he didn't know he had and has to learn how to be a dad. The Lowdown: A pitiful, pathetic, lazy attempt at bilking money out of the market for family-friendly fare during the holiday season.
Genre: "Family" Comedy
Director: Walt Becker (Wild Hogs
Starring: Robin Williams, John Travolta, Seth Green, Kelly Preston, Conner Rayburn, Ella Bleu Travolta
Rated: PG

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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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10 thoughts on “Old Dogs

  1. Dionysis

    The mere thought of anything with Robin Williams in it engenders the same kind of reaction as the prospect of having to watch a new Paulie Shore movie. I’d sooner have a root canal without anesthetic.

    As if that’s not enough, the description of this film makes it sound like a true waste of resources in every respect. I wonder who would actually want to see this mess?

  2. Ken Hanke

    I wonder who would actually want to see this mess?

    Obviously fewer people than they’d hoped, but more than one might wish. Perhaps it’s the sort of movie preferred by Messrs. Logger and Dweller. It seems fairly likely.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Oh, Mr Williams. I really thought World’s Greatest Dad was the start of a new direction. Alas, it was not to be.

    He’s always done this sort of thing — or has for a while now. He’ll make something good where he isn’t in Robin-Williams-on-speed mode and then make this kind of crap. The sad thing is that more people have probably already seen Old Dogs than will ever see World’s Greatest Dad, The Night Listener and One Hour Photo combined.

  4. Dave

    While it always makes me kind of sad to see Robin Williams doing this type of garbage, it always soothes me to think of the roles I loved him in: TS Garp, John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society, Perry in The Fisher King.

  5. Christopher K Howse

    Robin Williams is capable of giving solid, non-frenetic performances (AWAKENINGS) but too often he lets the genie of manic out of the bottle and it’s….too much. I wish I could credit the quotation but someone said that, “You can tell what kind of Robin Williams film by whether he’s shaved his arms.” It’s as if whenever there’s a suggestion that it may be a comedy he drags out some portion of Mork from Ork and plays it.

  6. Peacewarrior

    Nano Nano is making these bad movies for one reason: he needs the money. Same with Travolta. Isn’t it a shame that these two, who have made good movies in the past, have dropped their standards just so they can get paid.

    I caught Wild Hogs on cable some time back. I couldn’t finish it. What an insultingly lousy flick. A bunch of aging yuppies want to scratch their macho itch, so they pretend to be weekend motorcycle gang members. A real waste of film. So with Old Dogs, the producer is dumb enough to advertise that it’s the same director? Pa-leeze!

    I regret that these days there just are not that many good films to choose from. Netflix and a good cable package seem a better alternative a lot of the time. Old Dogs looks so bad, I wouldn’t spend Hanke’s money on it if he treated me!

  7. Ken Hanke

    I wouldn’t spend Hanke’s money on it if he treated me!

    Don’t worry. I wasn’t planning on it, but I’d buy you a ticket to a John Waters festival.

  8. Steve

    Isn’t it a shame that these two, who have made good movies in the past, have dropped their standards just so they can get paid.

    Well I really have no room to talk here, I do that every day.

    I have no plans to see this, but I was quite surprised to find over Thanksgiving that my mother was looking forward to the release. Apparently she (and a surprising number of her friends) found Wild Hogs endlessly hilarious, and were looking forward to more. Several of her friends liked Hogs enough to buy a copy. Mabye they’ve tapped into some primal vein of boomer hormones?

  9. Simon

    Let’s face it: Disney is rubbish for anyone over six years old.

    Except maybe Tron. That rocked. Robin Williams wasn’t in that. Thank God.

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