It is the exceptionally rare comedy that offers not merely humor to its audience, but the opportunity for them to feel several other emotions as well. One of Disney's latest films, and one releasing to home video this week, Old Dogs, manages to make its audience feel any number of emotions. Sadly, rarely is humor one of them.
Starring John Travolta and Robin Williams; co-starring Kelly Preston, Lori Laughlin, Conner Rayburn, Ella Bleu Travolta, and Seth Green; and with appearances by Bernie Mac, Matt Dillon, Ann Margret, Amy Sedaris, and Rita Wilson, Old Dogs, from the moment the credits roll, has the feel to it of one of those films that put together a great cast to overcompensate for its poorly conceived and executed script. And the aforementioned stars try – they really try – to make the best of the plodding, nonsensical lines and situations handed them, but still don't succeed.
Old Dogs, directed by Walt Becker (Wild Hogs), finds Travolta and Williams as lifelong best friends who, years ago, went into sports marketing together. Travolta's Charlie has stayed the single playboy whereas Williams' Dan got married but ended up divorced years prior to the film's opening. In true best bud fashion, when that momentous event occurred in Dan's life, Charlie took him to Miami so they could get drunk, party, and get over it. That, event however not only left Dan with another marriage (it was annulled), but, as he finds out towards the opening of this film, twins (now nearly seven) as well. When the kids' mom (Kelly Preston) has to go to jail for two weeks, it falls to Dan to watch the kids he's never wanted but now has.
As you may have already surmised, that is where the majority of the film tries to find the funny – in Dan (and Charlie, who gets roped into helping) learning how to be a father and manage his business which is in the midst of a big deal at the same time. Not only is the eventual success of Dan and Charlie's parenting endeavors clear from the opening of the film, but far too many of the jokes are as well. There are repeated references to both men's age in terms of their being more suitable to be grandparents than parents and the quantity of medicine they take and even a few perfunctory hits to the groin (without which, it seems this film believes, no comedy can ever be successful).
None of the jokes really cause more than a slight smile, and that is where the other emotions the film does inspire come into play. Travolta and Williams, despite being hampered by the script, are both incredibly likable and charismatic. Sitting there, one will want them to be funny; seeing that funny is right around the corner, one will urge them on in their quest for funny; and watching them never quite arrive at funny one will walk away hugely disappointed. Old Dogs is a film that could have been good; one can sense the good inside of it trying to break free. It just never quite makes it. After viewing the film one can't help but have a sense of frustration about it. These are funny people in the film, they just never do anything funny.
Beyond that, it is utterly impossible to watch the film knowing anything about the actors and not get the sense that for Williams' character to have been married to Kelly Preston's character when Travolta is, in real life, married to her is odd. The film makes the family problems go one step further however with the casting of Ella Bleu Travolta as Preston and Williams' daughter in the film when she is really Preston and Travolta's daughter. Top that off with the repeated jokes about how Travolta and Williams are old enough to be the kids' grandfathers, not fathers, despite Travolta actually being Ella's father, and the entire thing is just plain unfunny and uncomfortable. Was the only way Travolta agreed to do the movie if both his wife and daughter were given parts with these the only ones available? Someone should certainly have thought better about proceeding down this casting path.
The best thing that can be said about the Blu-ray release of Old Dogs is that it both looks and sounds quite good. The colors are sharp and bright, and even if skin tones are, perhaps, slightly odd (they tend to give everyone a tanned look), they seem intended, and the rest of the colors are sharp, bright, and fit perfectly in this family-oriented (both in terms of material and audience) comedy. The DTS-HD 5.1 MA track is strong, with good use of the surrounds for music, crowds, and various effects. The dialogue all comes through quite clearly, allowing every failed joke to crisply and cleanly hang in the air before disappearing forever.
The special features on the release include a DVD and digital copy, deleted scenes, bloopers, a very brief discussion with the four main actors (the two kids, Travolta, and Williams) two music videos, and a commentary track with Becker, producer Andrew Panay, and writers David Diamond and David Weissman. In short, the special features are all as paint-by-numbers as the film itself.
Old Dogs is certainly a family-oriented film. It is PG rated and while there are some aspects of it that might cause parents to have a discussion or two with their child about appropriate and inappropriate behavior (plus the general birds and bees outline), it seems calculated to do little to offend any age group so that all might watch it and, if not laugh at it, at least not tense up uncomfortably. However, there are far better movies that fit that bill, and it might be best to just let Old Dogs slink off unnoticed.