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Movie Reviews from a Christian Family Friendly Entertainment

Old Dogs Could've Used a Few New Tricks

  • Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2009 11 Nov
  • COMMENTS
<i>Old Dogs</i> Could've Used a Few New Tricks

DVD Release Date:  March 9, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  November 25, 2009
Rating:  PG (for some mild rude humor)
Genre:  Family/Comedy
Run Time:  88 min.
Director:  Walt Becker
Actors:  John Travolta, Robin Williams, Kelly Preston, Ella Bleu Travolta, Connor Rayburn, Lori Loughlin, Seth Green, Bernie Mac, Rita Wilson, Amy Sedaris

In what's not exactly a ringing endorsement for a tasteful family comedy, the movie trailer for Old Dogs boasts that it's brought to you by the director of Wild Hogs.

While it's safe to say that Walt Becker doesn't dig quite so deep in the slop bucket for his low-brow giggles, (it is rated PG, after all) Old Dogs could've used a few new tricks, namely a stronger, less-schmaltzy script, a more convincing friendship between our protagonists played by John Travolta and Robin Williams respectively, and well, a few more laughs that don't involve bodily functions. Or a perpetually cross-eyed character who constantly runs into things and inevitably frightens small children (even more shocking is that it's Rita Wilson who signed on for that unfortunate cameo).

Truth be told, not many people at our packed Saturday morning screening, an audience that included kids, teens and parents alike, were laughing much at all. And that's because Old Dogs, save for a scene or two, just wasn't very funny. Worse yet, the familiar moral of valuing what's really important in life (and it's not those long hours at the office, surprise surprise) feels
particularly tacked on and inauthentic.

Note to the writers: It actually helps if the children are more than just for show. As cute as they are, they never truly feel part of the story.

Back to what we do know, apparently, Charlie and Dan have been friends for a long time. Or that's what we're shown in the opening montage with a slew of cutesy pics anyway. And through thick and thin and Dan's two divorces, they've also been successful business partners for an independent sports marketing firm.

While we have no idea what their work actually entails (aside from telling over-the-top, embarrassing stories about each other to prospective clients), Charlie and Dan are on the cusp of a huge business deal that'll bring in the really big money, the kind of fundage that'll help them be set for life. That is, if Dan can lose a little of his emotional baggage and get his act together before it ruins the duo's chances of landing that deal. See, he's still lamenting a one-night stand with Vicki (Kelly Preston), a relationship that began on a vacation to Miami that segued into a quickie marriage (and a quickie divorce once everyone was sober) seven years ago.

Even though Charlie constantly extols the many virtues of the bachelor life, Dan just ain't buyin' it. He desperately longs for a love to call his own and gets in touch with Vicki via a seven-page, single-spaced letter (yes, an actual letter, not a Facebook message), hoping for a second chance.

Conveniently, right around the time that Vicki receives Dan's magnum opus, she's in a bit of a legal pickle. After an episode of environmental protesting, she doesn't just get a fine for her wrongdoing. Instead, she's landed herself a two-week jail stint. As the mother of fraternal twins Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta, rounding out what's ultimately a family affair) and Zach (Conner Rayburn), she's not quite sure how she's going to take care of them when she's behind bars. So in an act of desperation, she pays a visit to their father who doesn't even know he's a father: Dan (quelle surprise).

Of course, saying that Dan is surprised by this turn of events is the understatement of the century. Set in his ways and technically old enough to be the kids' grandfather, he doesn't take too kindly to Vicki's request to care for his kids while she's in the slammer. But to win her back? It might be worth it.

Since she's got no one else, he eventually agrees to the task, which leads to a slew of predictable, fish-out-of-water moments for Dan and Charlie, who reluctantly agrees to the share the parental load. But instead of offering the "old dogs" an opportunity to see life through a new lens, the scriptwriters offer up a boring, by-the-numbers journey jam-packed with juvenile humor that's simply a waste of talented actors like Williams, Travolta and comedic scapegoat Seth Green, who is simply picked on again and again for his slight stature.

Why anyone thought any of this would deliver the funny is a real mystery to me, and the timing couldn't be worse. Truth be told, if you're looking for some family-bonding laughs after you've enjoyed the turkey and all the trimmings, watching a re-run of John Hughes' Planes, Trains and Automobiles on cable (preferably the edited version) is a far better choice. Somehow, Hughes found that delicate balance between serving up gut-busting laughs and telling a story that thoughtfully underscores the importance of family without resorting to the gimmicky theatrics that drags Old Dogs way, way down.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Social drinking during business meetings, plus an ongoing joke about getting Charlie and Dan's prescribed meds all mixed up, a funny scene that would probably be pretty dangerous if this wasn't a movie.
  • Language/Profanity:  Not much in the way of actual expletives, just a lot of rude banter, scatological and otherwise.
  • Sex/Nudity:  A reference to a one-night stand, plus ongoing suspicions that Charlie and Dan are a gay couple, when in truth they were just two friends watching a couple of kids.
  • Violence:  Only of a comedic nature, and there's plenty of slapstick violence throughout including characters getting hit hard in rather sensitive areas.

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.