Walt Becker should never, ever be allowed to direct again. I’ll freely admit, for better or worse, that his debut film, Van Wilder, is among a long list of my guilty pleasure movies. It is not a great movie and at times it's even a downright disgusting movie, but it knew its target audience and played along the lines of the then-current crop of gross-out features. It also brought to light the now hugely reliable star Ryan Reynolds but he’s about the only good thing to come from a film that also featured Tara Reid.
Since this first film Becker has been on quite a steady downward spiral as he also gave us Buying the Cow starring Jerry O’Connell and then the surprise smash hit, and I mean surprise, Wild Hogs. This was a movie that went on to be one of 2007’s biggest hits in spite of being one of that year’s absolute worst comedies, if not films.
When your big name cast consists of so-called “comedians” who may be great on stage but are usually horrific on-screen, they should never be allowed to act together in one film. Yet there they were: Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence right alongside John Travolta and William H. Macy. Along for the ride we also saw Marisa Tomei turn up as Macy’s love interest. They managed to be the only two who escaped slightly unscathed.
Having not had the displeasure of witnessing either I Love You, Beth Cooper nor All About Steve, I have to say that from what I’ve seen so far, I award this year’s Cinematic Abortion Award to Walt Becker’s Old Dogs.
Here we find John Travolta returning for another undeserved paycheck along with Robin Williams, who phones in his performance and goes completely over-the-top in a way we haven’t seen from him in a while. In some cases that could be a good thing, but with a director who has no filmmaking sensibilities in the slightest and nary a rope in sight to reel Williams in at any point, we get this atrocious piece of slap-dash, unintentional terror.
Dan (Robin Williams) and Charlie (John Travolta) live single and boisterously care free. Dan is seeking peace in his old age whereas Charlie is still lapping it up as the ladies man he always has been. As business and unintentional life partners they have apparently more time and money than they know how to deal with but are trying to close a deal with some Japanese businessmen, only to string along the racial and ethnic jokes for the duration of the running time.
Dan also can’t seem to get over his one-night stand with Vicki (Kelly Preston, Travolta’s real-life wife). Although that was seven years ago, Dan feels she might have been the love of his life even though he drunkenly married her and then quickly annulled the marriage. After receiving a message that Vicki wants to meet for lunch he thinks maybe she wants to try things out again between them. What he finds out is that she really wants to introduce him to his twin children Zach and Emily (Conner Rayburn and Travolta and Preston’s real-life daughter, Ella Bleu Travolta).
Dan has never been good with kids, as we witness when he kicks a soccer ball back to a group of kids in Central Park and of course the ball flies across the screen only to smash a kid in the face. A simple “my bad” seems to be all it takes to smooth one over for these guys.
Vicki comes clean with Dan during their lunch and it is revealed that she is going to serve jail time for a trespassing episode. Originally the plan was to have the kids stay with Vicki’s cross-eyed hand model best friend Jenna (Rita Wilson). After Dan smashes Jenna’s hands in a car trunk to the tune of “Big Girl’s Don’t Cry” (for the supposed hilarity of ruining someone’s career) it is forced upon Dan to take the children under his wing for two weeks while Vicki does her time.
And on that note we cue the music, so to speak. I don’t know who hired Dave Jordan as the music supervisor but along with director Becker, he too should be run out of Hollywood with a bulldozer. Nothing that is happening onscreen ever makes sense or is used to bludgeon the moment into the audience's forehead like a musical lobotomy.
As for the shenanigans — see Williams and Travolta in a PG-rated film have a night on the town consisting of over-sized alcoholic beverages and getting so wasted that they wind up in a tattoo parlor and partaking of one-night stands. Witness Williams receiving the world’s worst spray-on tan accident where at Grand Central Station he actually questions if he is the new United Nations as stereotyped foreigners continually ask him random things in foreign languages.
Bear the humiliation of Williams and Travolta having their daily pills mixed up by Zach and Emily then ingested to all kinds of “hilarity” ensuing. A day on the golf course turns into lame sight gags and Seth Green getting hit in the crotch not just once, but twice, then to add insult to injury we also witness another character being torpedoed in the crotch with a golf ball.
Supposedly this film was pushed back from its original release date after the untimely death of the great Bernie Mac. If it was pushed back in honor of his passing his estate should have done him one better and had it seen to that all prints of this disaster were destroyed and never spoken of again. He may only be in the film for around five minutes but this is an even worse send-off than Donald Pleasance’s final performance in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers.
The single biggest culprits here would honestly have to be the screenwriting duo of David Diamond and David Weissman. This is their third big studio release, following the likes of the Brett Ratner holiday crapfest The Family Man and the surprisingly spry and at least sporadically entertaining Ivan Reitman helmed Evolution. After Family Man and Old Dogs I have a sneaking suspicion that Evolution was single-handedly written by the original story creditor and third party scripter Don Jakoby.
Scene after scene makes your jaw drop lower and lower as the stupidity abounds and reaches new lows at an astounding rate. Diamond and Weissman's next project is a January release starring Kristen Bell, a romantic comedy from the director of Simon Birch, Daredevil, and Ghost Rider. I can only fear for my eyes and ears as that one encroaches upon us for the new year. When a film can’t even make a dog owner feel empathy by killing off a 14-year-old dog then something has gone awry. If only we, the audience, were as lucky as that dog.
In a film made by children, starring actors acting like children, in a film that hates everyone, you already know if this film is for you. I also forgot to make mention of poor Seth Green, who was apparently only cast to sneer at and mug for the camera and repeat whatever Dan and Charlie say to hammer the lines home and become the first primate rape victim since Trading Places. This is a “family” film?!
Not even the gracefully aging Ann-Margret escapes unscathed in a scene where Charlie unknowingly attends a grief counseling weekend group with a clearly computer-animated “Joker” smile. “Clearly” meaning that when Travolta tries to imitate said smile he is completely unable to at a board meeting with the Japanese businessmen. So, as the great late Bernie Mac would say, America… if this film’s for you there’s no hope for the future.
Photo courtesy Walt Disney Pictures