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1 out of 4 stars


Old Dogs

  • Directed by Walt Becker
  • Written by David Diamond and David Weissman
  • Starring John Travolta and Robin Williams
  • Classification: G

Imagine a mash-up of Grumpy Old Men and Daddy Day Care, and brace yourself for Old Dogs , a new "family comedy" starring John Travolta and Robin Williams as middle-aged bachelors who find themselves in charge of seven-year-old twins.

The movie is directed by Walt Becker, the man behind the 2007 Travolta comedy Wild Hogs , a movie notable only for the discrepancy between its critical trouncing and its quarter-of-a-billion-dollar box-office take. Similarly themed and titled, Old Dogs looks like a safe bet to score with the weekend mall crowds - a story about babysitting seven-year-olds that's designed to do exactly that. As well, it's a family movie starring a family: With Travolta's real-life wife (Kelly Preston) and daughter (Ella Bleu Travolta) co-starring, it's a family movie in both senses.

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Travolta brokered his star appeal into a series of similar kid-friendly movies in the late eighties (the Look Who's Talking series), before Quentin Tarantino rescued his career by casting him in Pulp Fiction . Here, he plays Charlie, a bachelor and self-styled swinger whose only family is, of course, his old dog. He's the affable front man for a New York-based boutique sports-marketing firm where his neurotic partner Dan (Robin Williams, cast against type) does the detail work. On the eve of landing a big contract with a Japanese company, Dan learns he is the father of seven-year-old twins, conceived during a one-day marriage with a woman named Vicki (Preston) whom he met during a drunken vacation.

When Vicki has to do some jail time on an environmental-protest charge, Dan and Charlie end up as babysitters for the doleful Zach (Conner Rayburn) and sensitive Emily (Ella Bleu Travolta). The rest of the movie consists of thinly connected slapstick sequences and contrived visual gags. Charlie convinces Dan to go to a tanning salon to meet his former wife and - wouldn't you know it? - Dan ends up such a deep mahogany hue, an Indian man mistakes him for a countryman. Then - surprise! - the kids remember they're supposed to go to a military-style camp for the weekend, allowing Matt Dillon and Justin Long to pop up in cameos as survivalist nutbars.

The oddest scenes include one in which the kids mix up Charlie and Dan's prescription drugs, leading to peculiar side effects, including giving Travolta a grisly, computer-created Joker-like smile. (Kids playing with their webcams at home are likely to be familiar with face-bending software, so the effect shouldn't be too freaky.) Wearing his hideous smile, Charlie crashes a bereavement group (allowing appearances from Ann-Margret and Full House 's Lori Loughlin).

The late Bernie Mac appears as a children's entertainer, in the movie's most miscalculated scene, in which he attempts to teach Dan how to have a tea party with his daughter by hooking him up to a remote-controlled suit. In other sequences, familiar from the movie's trailer, Dan and Charlie sneak into the zoo, where their assistant (Seth Green) gets adopted by a gorilla, and Dan and Charlie are attacked by angry penguins.

The timing of the comic set-ups is consistently amateurish, as if scenes were edited with hedge clippers, with the actors mugging frantically, waiting for the take to end. Apart from a couple of mildly wince-worthy ethnic and gay jokes, though, Old Dogs is offensive mostly because it wastes time.

While watching the movie - making mental to-do lists, counting change in my pocket and trying to remember lyrics to the Motown tune on the soundtrack - I had a brief glimmer of hope. Won't the series run out of rhymes? What's left after Wild Hogs and Old Dogs ? Bull Frogs? Bumps on a Log?

Then I recalled the curse of the sequel: Sure enough, Wild Hogs 2 is scheduled for release in 2011. At this rate, Travolta could be hogging and dogging it well into the next decade.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More


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