OLD DOGS has a strong cast fighting a script that is labored, stale, and obvious. That cast is led by John Travolta and Robin Williams, both of whom are no strangers to comedy, nor to miscalculations when it comes to choosing scripts.
They are Charlie and Dan, pals and business partners of 30 years. While Charlie has always been footloose and fancy-free, Dan, the more grounded of the two, chose marriage and 14 years later, when it didn’t work out, Charlie did what he does best. He took Dan to South Beach for a wild weekend. It was wilder than either of them planned. Aside from the tattoo that reminds Dan every day about the vagaries of language, he found himself with another wife and another sundering of the marriage bonds within 24 hours.
Seven years later, it’s a great story for the biggest business meeting of the duo’s career in sports marketing. That would be a Japanese firm hoping to enter the American market. Or maybe the guys business is entering the Japanese market. It doesn’t matter, which is perhaps why it’s never made clear. What does matter is that right afterwards, when the negotiations are going into high gear, Dan hears from Vicki, his second ex-wife. She a woman full of surprises, including an upcoming two-week stint in prison for protesting toxic dumping, and fraternal twins that Dan fathered during their brief union. Of course Dan ends up having to take the kids for the two weeks. Of course Charlie is forced to be involved. Of course it goes badly. Of course they end up bonding.
A predictable plot is not necessarily a death knell for a comedy, but being unfunny is. Though studded with cameos from Amy Sedaris, Matt Dillon, Justin Long, Bernie Mac (sporting a hot-pink sequined tuxedo) and Ann-Margaret, and though everyone is trying very, very hard, the laughs are few and far between and mostly due to the presence of Seth Green as the duo’s over eager protégé. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that every minute that Green is not on screen is a waste. His rubbery face and air of sincere desperation makes even the inevitable golf ball to the gonads gag funnier than it should be. As for Williams and Travolta, they are palpably trying too hard. Williams trapped in a tanning booth, a gag that the audience can see coming from several miles up in space, almost makes it work before overplaying it. Travolta attacked by penguins, because a film like this inevitably ends up at a zoo, is somehow less funny than the flightless birds with the killer instinct, even with one of them pecking madly at his ear.
The kids (Ella Bleu Travolta, daughter of Preston and Travolta, and Conner Rayburn) are cute without also being annoyingly precocious. It’s a small but welcome blessing in a film with a story that spins out interminably while pulling out every hoary chestnut it can think of, from the side-effects of mixed-up medications, to professional household child-proofers with boundary issues, to an aging dog with incontinence.
OLD DOGS is such a waste of talent that it could easily render the audience dyspeptic with the missed opportunities rather than charmed by the warm fuzzies the film desperately wants to evoke. There is comedy to be found in irritation, but not when it’s the audience being irritated.