When I first heard about this film, I obviously didn’t hear enough about it because I almost immediately thought it was a sequel to Wild Hogs. They both share the same director (Walt Becker), one of its stars (John Travolta) and the studio (Disney, although Disney shingle Buena Vista put out Wild Hogs). While a Wild Hogs sequel is apparently on its way (supposedly dubbed Wild Hogs 2: Bachelor Ride), Old Dogs is sadly not the sequel to the decent-enough flick, and just a dull, formulaic film and a display on how stale and safe some movies have become lately.
This is another one of those movies that falls in the “unlikely parent” genre (See: Three Men and a Baby, Big Daddy, amongst many others) and while it’s cute and charming in some ways, it’s hard to watch this and not have a thousand other films coming to mind while you’re watching this. The Old Dogs in question are Charlie (John Travolta) and Dan (Robin Williams), two lifelong friends who started up a sports marketing firms years ago and have turned it into quite the successful business. Charlie is the free-wheeling bachelor who never met a hot waitress or receptionist that he hasn’t hit on and Dan is, naturally, the more morose type, a divorcee who, surprisingly pines less for his ex-wife than he does a woman he met in Miami seven years ago, the result of Charlie taking Dan down there to help him get over his failed marriage. For some reason, Charlie tells Dan’s tale to a group of Japanese businessmen (apparently it’s a “deal-breaking” story, which I don’t understand) and we see all the weirdness that ensues, including a misspelled tattoo on his chest and his one-night marriage to the lovely Vicki (Kelly Preston). I guess I wasn’t aware that Miami had these Vegas-like wedding chapels, but whatever. Anyway, he thinks about her all the time, this Vicki, and even wrote a lengthy letter to her a few months ago, and when Vicki calls Dan up, he thinks it’s his big chance to get back together with her… but she has a bit of a surprise for her. She meets with Dan and tells her that her seven-year old fraternal twins are actually Dan’s kids, and she wants them to spend some time with their dad… before she goes to jail for two weeks. Weird. The kids were all set to spend the two-week stint in New York with Vicki’s friend Jenna (Rita Wilson) a bizarre hand model, but after a somewhat predictable accident, the kids Zach (Conner Rayburn) and Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta, yes, John’s daughter) end up staying with Charlie and Dan at Charlie’s place. Of course, Charlie and Dan are trying to seal this big deal with the Japanese company and the kids get in the way and I’m sure you can see how the rest of the film goes from there.
For a film so unoriginal and garden-variety at best, it’s a tad surprising they got such a diverse ensemble cast here. While I really don’t put anything past John Travolta and Robin Williams appearing here, I was kind of surprised to see the likes of Lori Loughlin, who plays a Japanese translator for Charlie and Dan’s firm, Seth Green as Craig, their ambitious young go-getter employee, Matt Dillon as the Pioneer Scout leader, who is leading the weekend camp getaway the kids go on and even cameos from Justin Long, who is actually kind of funny as this crazed dude at the Pioneer camp, convinced Charlie stole his woman, Amy Sedaris as a resident at Dan’s “child-free” condo (a lame tactic they use so that everyone has to stay in Charlie’s bachelor pad), and even Bernie Mac, in his very last film, as a children’s entertainer called Johnny Lunchbox. While these aren’t necessarily bad performances, it just feels like almost everyone is out of place here. I personally think it’s rather sad that this will go down as Bernie Mac’s last film, especially given the entertainer’s rich legacy of cutting against the grain while a film like this seems to embrace said grain. I did enjoy Justin Long’s brief turn as the weird guy at camp, Matt Dillon and Seth Green turn in decent performances here, but I think I was most surprised by Ella Bleu Travolta’s screen debut as Emily. She has a fairly solid presence on camera and she gave a pretty good performance as Emily, even though I was a little bored with Conner Rayburn as the other twin Zach. It was nice to see the beautiful Kelly Preston on screen again, and she does a nice job as Vicki, but the brunt of the movie falls on the Old Dogs’ shoulders, John Travolta and Robin Williams. It’s pretty clear in this film that these longtime friends have quite a shorthand with each other and they do play off each other quite nicely, but Travolta has a tendency to overdo it just a tad sometimes, which was surprising to me that it was Travolta who was overdoing it and not Williams, who has quite a legacy of overacting in the past. The thing is, a cast this diverse is only as good as the material they’re given, and the material here is pretty damn boring.
The script by David Diamond and David Weissman is such a frappe of movies past that it’s actually not surprising this was greenlit, when you think about it. It’s almost like it’s a mixed-tape remake, where instead of just taking one film and remaking it, you take all these elements from several movies, mash them all together and blend it into a smoothie that might look good from the outside, but has a familiar, yet bad taste going down. We’ve got the busy dad who neglects his kids for work aspect from Liar, Liar and Diamond and Weissman even pilfer from their own catalog a bit, with Dan having these kids he never knew he had sprung on him, which has shades of Diamond and Weissman’s film The Family Man. While there are a few charming and cute moments peppered throughout the film, we’re barraged with such a heavy dose of unoriginal and just flat-out unfunny material that drowns those nice moments out.
Old Dogs is a fitting title in more ways than one. It’s a film that not only displays how the “old dogs” of Hollywood can’t be taught new tricks, but that they don’t want to be taught new tricks, wading in the doldrums with a safe film like this.