With John Travolta and Robin Williams. Rated PG for some mild rude humor. 88 minutes.
What would Thanksgiving be without a turkey? It’s an obvious joke that will no doubt appear in variations in countless reviews of OLD DOGS, unquestionably one of the worst movies of 2009. It is an embarrassment to all concerned.
Without giving away too many of the “surprises,” the story concerns two lifelong friends and business partners (John Travolta, Robin Williams) who find themselves taking care of two youngsters for a couple of weeks. One is a bachelor and the other is divorced, so both are childless. Oh, the hilarity that is supposed to ensue from two grown men having to cope with taking care of two children. No doubt this was pitched as “Daddy Day Care” with fewer kids.
Here are some of the things the filmmakers want us to find amusing: People repeatedly mistaking Travolta and Williams as grandparents or a gay couple. Workmen helping themselves to food, including dog biscuits. A hand model getting her hands crushed in the trunk of a car. Prescription drugs getting mixed up so people take the wrong ones with “hilarious” side effects. This last one is deemed so funny it is repeated a second time. Oh, and let’s not forget an actual old dog – belonging to Travolta’s character – who soils the carpet. Throw in several golf balls-to-the-groin moments, and our two heroes daubing bear excrement on their faces and one can see why the executives Disney approved of this as family entertainment. Clearly they got their pharmaceuticals mixed up at the time this was given a green light.
Delayed for release by at least six months, the film offers us the startling appearance of the late Bernie Mac in a small role. How sad this was the comic actor’s final film. Other people who inexplicably pop up are Ann-Margret, Seth Green, Rita Wilson, Matt Dillon, Justin Long and Kelly Preston. Preston is perhaps the least surprising as she is married to Travolta and he apparently saw this as an opportunity to put his whole family to work. The little girl is played by Ella Bleu Travolta, and there are two other Travoltas in bit parts.
Before tossing this movie on the trash heap where it belongs, let’s note the dramatic reconciliation scene at the end. Not between Travolta and Williams at the inevitable funeral scene, but the one where Williams has to win back the two kids (and their mom) whom the script has forced him to abandon. This scene involves their breaking into a zoo and ending up trapped with a gorilla. This is, of course, played for laughs. While the nanny types insist that movie characters must model good behavior – don’t smoke, wear your seat belts, watch your cholesterol – this scene should have raised some eyebrows. Are the folks at Disney so oblivious of real life circumstances of people being mauled in such situations that they want to suggest it’s no more serious than a cartoon?
“Old Dogs” is beyond saving. The only humane thing to do is to put it down.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.