We've learned the hard way that you can't teach Judge Patrick Bromley new tricks.
Sit. Stay. Play dad.
In 2007, director Walt Becker (he of National Lampoon's Van Wilder fame) scored a surprise hit with the pandering, terrible biker comedy Wild Hogs. In 2009, he tried to prove that he could have another hit by underestimating American audiences even more than in his previous effort. The resulting film was Old Dogs, and Becker was wrong. Old Dogs was lower than we were willing to go.
Facts of the Case
Dan (Robin Williams, World's Greatest Dad) and Charlie (John Travolta, Be Cool) are lifelong best friends and bachelors running a hugely successful sports marketing firm. One day, a woman Dan had a brief affair with (Travolta's real-life wife Kelly Preston, Eulogy) reappears in his life to tell him that he's the father of her twin kids (Conner Rayburn and Ella Bleu Travolta, daughter of John and Kelly Preston). To make matters worse, she's about to be sent off to jail for two weeks (?) for environmental terrorism and needs to leave the kids with someone. Dan volunteers, and it isn't long before he and Charlie are going on camping trips with the scouts, child-proofing their upscale apartment and flying around on jet packs (??). Will Dan decide he wants to be a good dad and grow instantly attached to the kids in a matter of days, or will he and Charlie take jobs in Japan to make sure that their upcoming business merger is successful? Can you believe that's even a question?
Reviewing the 2009 comedy Old Dogs is almost unnecessary at this point. Is there anyone who doesn't already know that this is a terrible, desperately unfunny film? Does anyone not already know that it received some of the worst critical responses in 2009? Could anyone not tell the movie was a black hole of comedy just based on the trailer?
And, yet, here I am, tasked with finding new ways to tell you, the reader, to stay away from Old Dogs. So here it is: stay away from Old Dogs. Stay far, far away. This is a movie drowning in its own flop sweat—one which proves to be a new low point in the already-questionable cinematic resumés of both John Travolta and Robin Williams. I have to believe that every person involved with the film (save maybe for director Walt Becker and the two young co-stars, Conner Rayburn and Ella Bleu Travolta) knew that it was terrible as they were making it. If they didn't, I don't just have to reevaluate every movie that Travolta or Williams make from here on out (if I see another one), but every movie they've made in the past, too (which I don't want to do, seeing as how movies like Blow Out andPulp Fiction and The Fisher King are very important to me). Not knowing that Old Dogs was going to be a dud is comparable to not knowing to breathe oxygen to stay alive. It's too obvious to ignore.
This is a movie so convoluted in its comic setups that, even if executed properly, it never could have been funny. Consider the scene where Robin Williams is asked by his daughter (who, along with her twin brother, calls him "daddy" despite the fact that she's never met him) to have a princess tea party. Williams is either so petrified of children or so inept at interacting with other human beings (despite his hugely successful sports marketing business) that he requests Travolta's help. Does Travolta coach him and tell him what to say? Nope. Does Travolta role play and act like a kid so Williams can get practice? No. Does he bring in some random outside kid for a trial run? Uh-uh. These are all terrible ideas, by the way, and would be totally in keeping with the tone-deaf humor in Old Dogs. The film, however, is determined to go beyond bad ideas into something so stupefyingly unbelievable that you can't imagine a team of people were willing to write, film, edit and project it on movie screens for paying audiences. Travolta hires "master puppeteer" Bernie Mac (who died in August of 2008, meaning Old Dogs was around for quite some time before seeing a release) to turn Williams into a human puppet with Travolta running the controls. Are you reading this? Now imagine this: the scene goes nowhere. While the words "human puppet" conjure up all kinds of terrible comedic images with Robin Williams being forced to do funny physical schtick or the suit going haywire with hilarious consequences, Old Dogs can't even be bothered to take that low road. Williams has a tea party, then spills some water on the suit and shorts it out, then continues to have a tea party.
What else does Old Dogs want you to find funny? How about a malfunctioning tanning booth that turns Robin Williams a deep orange? Don't worry; it's only for the length of a single scene. Spray tans only last a few hours. How about John Travolta and Robin Williams going out to a restaurant and being outed as grandparents? They seem very old. And that's a thing that happens in restaurants. And then Travolta spills some water and fails to impress a girl because she thinks he wet his pants. How about another scene where Williams and Travolta take the wrong medication with wacky results—Williams loses his depth perception and Travolta goes into facial spasms, both done through the use of terrible CGI special effects. A dog dies. Seth Green gets hit in the balls and is hugged by a gorilla. Rita Wilson plays a cross-eyed hand model. Should I continue?
This is terrible material, performed badly. Its well-documented that Robin Williams needs a strong director to reign in his worst instincts, and Walt Becker is not that director. Williams isn't even in his over-the-top improv mode—just his mugging "family movie" mode, which is just as bad in a different way. Luckily, Travolta is there to match his high-energy, cartoonish mugging every step of the way. Watching these two desperately try and milk laughs out of the film, it's almost impossible to believe that both have given great performances in the past (it's hard to imagine that Williams made this and World's Greatest Dad in the same year). They set the pitch for the rest of the overacting in the film, of which every supporting player is guilty—it's as though everyone believes that if they're big and loud and exaggerated enough, no one will notice that the movie isn't working. In reality, it just makes matters worse.
Say what you will about Old Dogs (and believe me, I could say plenty), but Disney knows how to do Blu-ray discs right. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio in full 1080p HD, and it looks fantastic. Colors are poppy and bright and fine detail is remarkable—often to the detriment of the stars (something is going on around John Travolta's hair line). The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is lively and energetic—often too much so (like Old Dogs), as if to overcompensate for what's happening on screen. The dialogue is clear and up front, while the he plentiful, let's-sell-a-soundtrack music cues carry punch when necessary and recede into the background when called for. Overall, it's a terrific technical presentation of a terrible movie.
A collection of bonus features has been assembled for the Blu-ray of the film, but I'm not exactly sure who the extras will appeal to; they're not targeted towards kids, who are the only audience I can imagine Old Dogs having. If there are grown adults eager to hear Walt Becker discuss his choices on a commentary track, I don't want to know them. Such a commentary track does exist, though, and it features Becker, producer Andrew Banay and the writing team of David Diamond and David Weissman sitting down to rave about a movie that's very different than the one I watched. Their talk is low on production information or technical detail and high on gushing compliments; everyone has a too-kind word to say about everyone else, and it becomes difficult to believe that they're watching Old Dogs while they speak. The commentary does come with optional subtitles, though, which is a feature I really like and wish more studios would include.
Three short deleted scenes are included (actually, it's really only two deleted scenes; the third plays out—albeit in a slightly different form—as the end credits roll), which weren't good enough to have been included in Old Dogs. A four-minute blooper reel are also on hand, consisting of the actors messing up their lines in unfunny ways. Additionally, there's a short interview piece in which the film's two child stars talk with Williams and Travolta about working on the film.
The last bonus feature is actually my favorite, but not because it's any good. It's a pair of music videos from the film; the first is a generic late-era Bryan Adams song (if you can imagine such a thing) called "You've Been a Friend to Me," while the second, a thing of crazed beauty, is a "duet" between Travolta and his co-star daughter Ella Bleu covering Bobby Brown's "Every Little Step." The pair dance around an all-white set furnished only with giant letters spelling "ELLA BLEU" as Travolta serenades his daughter with a forgotten, early-'90s dance single. I get it, John Travolta. You want the world to know you love your daughter (I guess giving her a major role in your big-budget Disney family comedy wasn't going to cut it). But every decision about this "song" is a perfect encapsulation of what has gone wrong with the actor's career and the very height of hubris. In fact, its very inclusion on the disc is a great example of the kind of overly-confident wrongheadedness that surrounds all of Old Dogs. I'm glad it's on here, because the novelty is about the only thing worth watching on the disc, but you could conceivably just watch the video and understand everything that is the worst about Old Dogs.
A second disc contains a standard-def DVD of the film, while a third disc contains a digital copy. I like that Disney provides so many viewing options on their Blu-ray releases, but only when the movie isn't Old Dogs.
I'll say this for Old Dogs: leading ladies Kelly Preston and Lori Loughlin are both terrific-looking women who seem willing to mature naturally (pay attention, Nicole Kidman). However, the fact that the two share screen time without a single mention of Secret Admirer is yet another of Old Dogs's crushing disappointments. This is one of the worst major studio releases of the last five years.
Don't make me say it.
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