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MOVIE REVIEW

'Old Dogs'

The Disney comedy in the 'Wild Hogs' vein starring John Travolta and Robin Williams is thuddingly unfunny.

November 25, 2009|By Michael Phillips
  • John Travolta plays a bachelor caring for twins (Ella Bleu Travolta, left, Conner Rayburn).
John Travolta plays a bachelor caring for twins (Ella Bleu Travolta, left,… (Ron Phillips / Associated…)

"Wild Hogs," "Old Dogs" -- what's next, "Bumps on Logs"? Truly, I would rather watch John Travolta and Robin Williams sitting on a tree trunk, doing nothing, than endure their best efforts to energize this ol' hound.

Does no one know how to film physical comedy anymore? In the latest Disney live-action comedy, people are constantly getting their fingers crushed by car-trunk lids or getting clocked in the groin by golf balls, and undergoing grotesque facial distortions owing to the wrong medication. And none of it is funny. It's all pain and no funny.

Director Walt Becker, who brought a similar level of blunt artlessness to "Wild Hogs" (also costarring Travolta), shoots the movie for maximum unfocused frenzy. The way the footage has been edited by Tom Lewis and Ryan Folsey, every conversation, every moment is hacked into erratic overemphasis. "Nervous" is the word. The performers, sensing (rightly) some issues with their script, act like preteen ninnies on a sugar high.

The premise recalls the American remake (costarring Williams) of "Les Comperes," which was called "Fathers' Day" and which few remember fondly. Seven years after his whirlwind 24-hour marriage to Vicki (Kelly Preston, Travolta's real-life missus), an uptight Felix Unger-esque fellow named Dan (Williams) learns he's the father of twins.

For reasons Hollywood pays screenwriters a fair bit of money to establish, Dan and his best friend and business partner, footloose bachelor Charlie (Travolta), end up baby-sitting these two for a couple of weeks.

Well! Camping trip: ends in flames. Big deal with Japanese business partners: crisis. Dan is a sad sack; Charlie is obnoxious; the jokes come back cyclically to "grandpa" gags as often as they come back to the "we're not gay!" gags. It may well be a popular success, as was "Wild Hogs." But when you get to the sequence featuring the late Bernie Mac as a puppeteer controlling Williams' every move as he pretends to be a fairy-tale king having a tea party with his daughter (Ella Bleu Travolta), you're thinking what? The labored premise of this setup is not worth the effort -- it's sort of icky both as humor and as pathos. Goodwill generated by familiar faces cannot overcome all obstacles. This is the lesson of the film, and better scripts and directors to all next time.

mjphillips@tribune.com

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