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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"OLD DOGS"

In Joseph Conrad's famous novel "Heart of Darkness," a character famously utters the line "the horror, the horror!" My occasion for recalling the line is that I have just seen Old Dogs. Readers, I have been reviewing movies for over twenty years, and this is without a doubt one of the worst comedies I've seen in that time. I know humor is a subjective thing, but it is inconceivable to me that anyone would find this movie the least bit funny. Not only does it recycle jokes that have been told a million times before, it also engages in the kind of desperate staging that suggests the actors knew the material was weak and tried to cover that fact up by figuratively putting lampshades on their heads and playing the fool.

Robin Williams and John Travolta play Dan and Charlie, best friends and business partners. They're close to landing a major deal with a Japanese company that is the culmination of everything they've worked for. But then Vicki (Kelly Preston) shows up. During a week of post-divorce debauchery seven years prior, Dan drunkenly married her, then got an immediate annulment. Vicki is about to spend two weeks in jail for something she did during a political protest, and she wants Dan to watch the six year-old fraternal twins he never knew he had fathered. Dan reluctantly agrees and convinces Charlie to help him. This leads to a series of wacky hijinks. And when I say "wacky hijinks," what I mean is "badly contrived situations that are completely laugh-free and which lead to an artificially sentimental ending."


If this picture makes you roll your eyes, you will loathe Old Dogs as much as I did.
 
Some of the jokes in Old Dogs are so obvious that you'll see them coming a mile away. When Vicki introduces her best friend Jenna (Rita Wilson) as a hand model, you instantly know that the woman's hand will be badly mangled before long. Just in case you don't get the irony, the song "Big Girls Don't Cry" blares on the soundtrack while Jenna does, indeed, cry. Other bits have been done before. For example, Dan goes to get a spray tan, is accidentally locked in the booth, and comes out looking orange. This was really, really funny when they did it on "Friends" ten years ago. Still other jokes make us wonder what exactly we're being asked to laugh at. While hauling the kids around, Dan and Charlie are repeatedly mistaken for either grandparents or a gay couple. The former is pointless (these guys are old enough, for Pete's sake), the latter borderline offensive (yeah, this is another movie that thinks it's "icky" to be mistaken as gay). Lest there be any doubt in your mind about when to laugh at this material, director Walt Becker (Wild Hogs) makes sure to include dozens of reaction shots from Charlie's beloved old pooch. There are additional jokes about poop and farting, and if you enjoy watching people get popped in the crotch, this picture comes close to setting an all-time screen record for the number of testicle injuries in one 90-minute period.

The weak material would be sufficient to make this film a normal level of bad. What places Old Dogs at a very special level of stupid is the bludgeoning manner in which the humor is handled. Imagine watching an old Jerry Lewis movie where everyone in the cast was trying to outdo Lewis himself. Now you have some inkling of what happens here. The actors mug shamelessly at the camera, shout their dialogue in shrill voices, and flail about wildly in the misguided hope that it will be funny if they all act like complete spazzes. Going too broad is, of course, no challenge for Williams; I was more stunned by how hard everyone else worked to upstage him.

Then there are the head-scratching moments - the ones where the screenplay for Old Dogs seems to be veering off into some drug-fueled world of its own. To help the uptight Dan connect with his daughter, Charlie hires a puppeteer named Jimmy Lunchbox (played by the late Bernie Mac) to fit Dan with a "human puppet" costume. Dan has a tea party with the girl while Charlie and Jimmy modulate his body movements with a remote control. What the hell?! And let us not forget the final act, in which Charlie, Dan, and protégé Craig (Seth Green) have to break into a zoo in the middle of the day to attend a birthday party. The scene seems to have been created simply so that a gorilla could molest Craig while Charlie and Dan fight off a horde of angry penguins. At times like these, you can feel the movie struggling desperately to find something comic for the characters to do, but what it comes up with is so insanely bizarre that it becomes more creepy than funny.

That brings up another point: Dan's daughter is played by Ella Bleu Travolta, the real-life daughter of John Travolta and Kelly Preston. Within the context of the film, it's disconcerting that Dan has a child who is a dead ringer for his best friend. Weirder still that Williams apparently fathered the girl via his co-star's wife.

I have not even mentioned Matt Dillon as an angry scout leader, or the inept baby-proofers played by Dax Shepard and Luiz Guzman, or the whole bit where the kids mix up Dan and Charlie's medications just moments after the adults conveniently talk about all the crazy side effects said drugs induce. Oh, this last one is a real doozy. As soon as you hear someone talk about a pill that eradicates depth perception, you just know Dan is going to accidentally take one prior to a golf outing with the Japanese businessmen. What's less apparent is why a bereavement group is meeting on the country club grounds, except that it gives Charlie a chance to show up with a medically-induced (and highly inappropriate) smile frozen on his face. This crappy movie really stretches credibility to try to get a laugh.

Old Dogs obnoxiously pounds this "comedy" into our heads as though we won't get it unless we're repeatedly nudged. Essentially, it's one big laugh track. Not only did I not find the movie funny, I actually found it making me angry. The thing is painful to watch. Getting your uvula pierced would be less painful than watching Old Dogs. Someone should have done to this project what young Travis Coates did to Old Yeller.

(1/2 star out of four)


Old Dogs is rated PG for some mild rude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.

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